Steven L. Sears [Interview]
April 5, 2017 Leave a comment
Oh man, do we have a doozy of an interview for you fine folks today. This might very well be the most thought out and insightful interview we have ever done. Surely it is at least the longest! And we could not be any happier about that.
Steven L. Sears is a man who has been captivating audiences for over 30 years. He has worked on some amazing television shows in his career, and has continued to dazzle and thoroughly entertain fans of so many different genres. I want to keep this introduction short, as there is A LOT of content for you fine folks to get through here. Let’s just say that Sears is amazing at what he does, and in this interview, he is going to pass along some knowledge to you that will definitely leave you inspired to do whatever the hell it is that you want to do in life. And if it doesn’t, well you have bigger problems I would say. Because Steven lays it all out on the digital table here, and we are so grateful for his presence here at Trainwreck’d Society.
So please enjoy some amazing words with the wonderful Steven L. Sears!
I have learned that you and I sort of grew up the same. As “military brats” that is, feeling like you are always on the move. And we are definitely not alone in this endeavor, I’ve met or heard of plenty of other brats who went on to careers as creative people. For you personally, do you believe that your pick up of a different type of world view might have let you into a life as a creative individual?
I have no idea if the percentage in entertainment is really any higher for military brats, but I’ve certainly been more aware of us. Perhaps that’s just confirmation bias; because I am one, I notice them while ignoring the thousands who aren’t. I can only answer as to how it affected me.
There is no doubt that my upbringing affected my world view and there’s a lot of truth to the fact that my creative side was enhanced as a result of it. For one thing, as a Brat, I moved to a different location every three years as my father was rotated to a new assignment. As a result, I’ve lived in Georgia, Germany, Florida, Kentucky and Washington in my 14 years as an active Brat. That’s a new neighborhood, a new school and new friends every three years.
I’ve had many civvies (that’s you non-Brats) ask me what it was like. They look at me sympathetically and say “It must have been rough, uprooting and moving around the country”.
No, it wasn’t rough. It was AWESOME! I lived all over! I traveled to fourteen nations and 48 states before I was thirteen! New experiences every three years! For a kid, this was an incredible life. Well, it was for this kid anyway.
Now, granted, there are some things that I can’t identify with that civvies take for granted. Nesting, for example. I have never felt the need to “settle down”. The idea of growing up with the same friends through grade school and high school is not a part of my world. And living in one house for your entire childhood? No, can’t see it.
Then again… have you ever been lulled to sleep at night by the rumble of distant mortar fire? I have. Have you ever set your watch by hearing a loudspeaker play Reveille in the morning at Taps at night? I have. Were you raised with such a respect for your Flag that when Retreat was played on base (retiring of the Colors), everyone, including children, would stop what they were doing, turn toward the flag or music, and pause in silence? We did. Do you understand the significance of watching a black sedan slowly drive down your neighborhood street during the height of the Vietnam war? I did.
And have you ever seen your mother swat a broom at a M-60 Patton tank that had accidentally jumped the curb onto your lawn? Yeah. Me.
I was also exposed to all sorts of people and societies and frequently moved from one area of social tolerance to another. Military bases have their own environment, where you don’t choose who you live next to. And it didn’t matter the color, religion or heritage of the person who lived next door, especially when the soldier of that family might be in a foxhole protecting your dad’s back. Contrast that to when my dad retired and we moved to a small Southern town where the school had been desegregated only a few years before.
But aside from all that, it’s how Brats react to it internally that counts more. For me, I had to find a way to fit in as quickly as possible. Mine was comedy. I was the “class clown”. If I could make them laugh, they would accept me. So entertaining became very easy for me at an early age. But, at the same time, creating a “mask” to separate me from the others also became a part of how I presented myself. Face it, not every aspect of who you are is going to be accepted in every environment by everyone. Your core doesn’t change, but you can control what parts the others can see. As a result, I became a very private person and a very gregarious person at the same time.
In a sense, I was always creating a “character” that I played. It’s not that I was pretending to be someone else, but it was, as I mentioned, controlling what others saw. I also developed what I refer to as an “audience eye” as a way to keep track of how I was perceived. This has come in very handy as I try to assess how an audience responds to my writing and characters. It’s a pain in the ass when I’m involved in debates because it also demands I see the other person’s point of view.
But that was my experience and a lot of that was determined by how I dealt with it all. Not every Brat moved into the creative realm and not every creative is a Brat.
How did you find yourself in the world of television? Were you always aspiring to be a writer, or did you have different plans at first? How did you manage to make television writer your mainstay in the world of entertainment?
Believe it or not, I’m going to try to give you the short answer.
I never planned to be a writer. Never. I didn’t even consider you could make a living at it; it wasn’t even on my radar.
When I was around thirteen or fourteen, I decided to audition for the State Play of Florida; Cross & Sword. My audition consisted of reciting the Gettysburg Address (thank you Boy Scouts!) and I got the role. From that point on, I was interested in acting and performance. I joined the school drama club, acted in all the plays, and did some regional work. As a result, when I entered college, my major was…. medicine. Acting was fun, I loved it, but I was looking toward my eventual career. My dad had retired and become an administrator of a hospital, so I was always around it and interested in medicine.
However, it is commonly accepted that a degree in Medicine is extremely difficult to do with a “C” in basic chemistry, which is what I got. So I was a bit lost at that point and went from Medicine to Liberal Arts (a degree which, I’m convinced, is like a way station for those who haven’t a clue what to do).
Enter Richard Dreyfuss. Yes, the actor. He had just won the Oscar for his performance in The Goodbye Girl. When that movie came out, a lot of my friends were telling me that he played me; the character was a lot like me. Well, maybe. But when he won that award, I remember thinking “It’s not like I’d have a chance. Only special people win the Oscar.” As soon as those words appeared in my mind, I realized he never would have gotten close to that award if he thought the way I just did.
That was the day I decided to switch my major to Theatre and become an Actor.
(did I mention this was the short version?)
So I got my degree in Theatre from Florida State University (Go ‘Noles!) and moved to Los Angeles. After meeting with several casting directors and hearing their thoughts about actors, I decided to start writing my own audition material. Just three page, three minute audition scenes. They became popular with other actors and, on advice from one of those casting directors, I decided to attempt writing a script, just for the fun of it.
The script I wrote sucked. It was horrible. But I LOVED writing it. I wanted to do more. So I started getting copies of TV scripts and began to study them. Again, with no thought of actually writing as a career, just because it was… well, fun.
Enter Burt Pearl. While working at a restaurant (how cliché) I met Burt Pearl, who became my close friend and co-conspirator. He was an extremely creative person and we decided to write a few scripts together.
Enter Riptide. A new series on NBC, produced by the Stephen J. Cannell company, which also produced Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hardcastle & McCormick and many other series. It was the elite production company of the time, still run in a very mom & pop manner by Steve. Burt and I liked the show so, as was our routine, I called over to see if they had a Writer’s Guide that we could look at. Again, I have to stress, this was just so we could have one. Not to get a job. The person I ended up talking to was a woman working in the production office. She said they didn’t have a Writer’s Guide, but she asked if I liked the new series. I told her I did and we proceeded to have a great conversation (most of it non-business). Toward the end of that conversation, she told me that the producers of Riptide were looking for freelance writers. She suggested that we have our agent send over a couple of samples of our work. “Who knows?” she said. I thanked her and that was the end of the call. She didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know who she was.
Burt and I didn’t actually have an agent, but we knew one who would talk to us. I called him, told him about the conversation, and suggested he send over some scripts.
(still the short version of this story, by the way)
About a month later, we got a call from Tom Blomquist, the Story Editor of Riptide. He wanted us to come in and meet him and the Executive Producer, Babs Greyhosky. Burt and I went in, wondering why they wanted to meet with us. We had never had a professional meeting about writing. We had a great time with them and they asked us for some of our ideas. We pitched five notions. They liked three and asked us to come back when we had those more fleshed out. We worked out two of them and came up with a completely new idea. We went back in, repitched the two and pitched the new one. They liked the new one and asked us to come back with a story outline. So we went off, wrote up an outline, and came back in to pitch it. We spent about an hour and a half where they ripped it apart and put it back together. Burt and I were having a ball. Tom and Babs were great to be around and we figured they must be on hiatus to take so much time to hang out with us (look up “naïve” in the dictionary… that photo is me). At the end of the meeting, Tom asked me who our agent was so he could notify Business Affairs.
That’s when it hit me. I asked Tom if we just got an assignment. He gave me a puzzled look and said “You got the assignment two weeks ago.”
We honestly had no idea what had just happened. We didn’t even know how much one episode of Network TV paid (we guessed it would be around $500…. Back then, it was around $15,000).
So, in a daze, Burt and I started to write the first draft. We finished it and turned it in on a Friday. On Monday, Tom called and left a message on my answering machine. He said that he liked the draft and had given our names to The A-Team and Hardcastle & McCormick producers because they were looking for freelance writers as well.
That was awesome enough. But the big call was on Wednesday, when Babs called and said she had given our script to Stephen J. Cannell to read. Steve, she said, only had ONE NOTE in the entire script. And, she continued, she was wondering if Burt and I wanted to work with them full time, on staff.
And, boom, my career began…
Again, keep in mind, I never planned this. The amount of time from when I wrote that horrible first script to the time I was standing in my Riptide office was about one year. My acting career moved to the background as I discovered that though I loved acting, I loved writing even more.
And to this day, with a 33 year long career and still going, the only books I have read on screenwriting is the one I wrote and the only classes I’ve attended on it were ones that I have taught (although I strongly advise EVERYone to read as much as possible and take advantage of classes and degrees in filmmaking).
That, in a large nutshell, is how it all started. Now, if you want the long version…
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say something more about Burt, my partner. Burt was an incredible writer on his own. At the suggestion of the producers at Stephen J. Cannell, Burt and I separated our contract and worked as individuals. He went on to work on many shows including being an Executive Producer on Touched By An Angel. Unfortunately, Burt passed away in 2006. He was an incredible person and hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of him.
Can you remember hearing your very first lines of dialogue acted out on screen? Do you remember who might have said them, and how you felt in that moment?
Hmmm…. Interesting question. I can’t actually remember it. I mean, I certainly know what the first line was in that first script Burt and I wrote for Riptide but it wasn’t filmed in linear order so it would have been in the dailies of whichever scene we shot first. I might even have been on the set the first time. I can’t say I remember how it felt.
Now, related to this question, is what my feeling was when I saw my name on the credits for the first time on television. I was at home, by myself (go figure). I had already seen the Answer Print (the final print we send to the Network), so I already knew what it looked like, but this was the first time it was going to be seen by a national audience. I waited, staring at the screen. And… there it was! And it was gone! And I felt…. well, that was anti-climatic. I expected more, I don’t know, fireworks?
But the second time… yes, that was memorable. I was in a Circuit City electronics store. I had set my VCR to record the episode, but I wasn’t going to see it live. I was standing in a long line at the checkout, looking at the clock as it neared 8 pm. Then I realized… I was surrounded by TV sets. They were all over the place, on the walls, on the floor displays, this was an ELECTRONICS store. I asked the person behind me to hold my space and I went around and changed every TV set to channel four. I got back in line and as it hit 8pm, Riptide was on every TV set in the store. And… my name flashed on hundreds of screens, all around me.
THAT was pretty rewarding.
In your early days as a writer on such huge shows as The A-Team and Riptide. And over 30 years later, you are still at it! So, congrats! But, my question is about how much things have changed? What are maybe some of the more subtle differences in the world of television writing? And do you find it to be better? worse?
TV has changed so much in the last thirty years. The technology has changed it, the social environment has changed so much, the very paradigm of story telling has changed.
This is a very complicated thing to address, so I can only skim the surface. Let’s break some of it down.
Back in the day (meaning when I started, in the 1980’s) there were only three networks plus PBS. CBS, NBC and ABC (FOX showed up a few years later). You could actually figure out how many episodes of television that were available for Writers and it wasn’t much. All of the series were financed by advertising dollars, meaning the networks had to sell commercial time to companies and the amount they charged was based on viewership. This was assessed, mostly, by Nielsen ratings. The budgets for producing the series were also based on this.
Next, was the secondary market. This was the “syndication” market. Basically it meant that every series would be sold individually to the local independent stations to be shown at their discretion. Mostly, this meant in the middle of the day when they did local programming. And it was always done as a secondary market, long after the original network run was over (TV series that were intended directly for the syndication market didn’t come until later).
Now with this, the local stations could also choose the order that they aired the episodes in syndication. That restricted us in writing the series because they could re-order it in such a manner that any broad series arcs wouldn’t make sense. So each episode had to be self sustaining and much more dependent on the plot specific to that episode. The character arcs were not broad, they evolved slowly and unintentionally as the series unfolded.
So two things have completely shaken up the formula since then.
One is that we have now expanded from advertiser driven financing to subscription financing. The Networks are still there and still use advertising dollars, but networks like HBO, SHOWTIME, AMAZON and the like have budgets that are based on subscribers. The Networks have to guess what the future income is based on projected advertising success. The subscription based networks know what their budgets are already; it’s based on known subscriber numbers.
Two is the technology of Entertainment, which has two parts.
(a) is the appearance of cable TV and the expansion in the number of networks. We now have so many networks out there, many of them specializing in a certain kind of product. Flip through your cable channels and see how many networks now have original content. And it’s getting larger.
(b) is the change in how series are presented. Listen, young’uns, there was a time when we had to rush five miles through six foot snow to be home when our favorite episode was on! If you missed it, well, you had to wait until Summer when the Networks would rerun the series. Even then, there was no guarantee they would rerun the one you missed! Nowadays you can record an entire series to watch at your convenience. Or you can buy the box set DVD to watch at your convenience. Or you can stream episodes at your convenience. Note the commonality? “At your convenience” means that you are no longer dependent on a schedule dictated by the Networks. You can watch your episodes anytime and anywhere. It also means that commercials and advertising-based revenue isn’t as important (notice that commercials have become more entertaining? It’s to prevent you from fast forwarding through them).
So how have those things changed the landscape of TV writing?
Well, in one case, you might notice that there would be more opportunities for Writers. With that many outlets, there has to be more work. Yes…. and no. What you are finding is that even though there are more slices in the financial pie, the pie itself hasn’t gotten appreciably larger. Rates have gone down relative to inflation and the residual system has taken a huge hit. And the freelance market has also taken a huge hit as many series write all their episodes in-house. Back when I started out, we would write in-house episodes, but freelance assignments to outside Writers. It’s a system I still believe in to this day as I think new blood is a necessary part of storytelling. But financially, it makes more sense to write it all in-house.
But for those Writers who do work, this is a golden era of storytelling. Because of the new syndication, you are no longer restricted by the order your episodes might be shown. Everything is “at your convenience”. The audience can now watch a series in correct order and most do. Binge watching is exactly this. So because of that, stories no longer have to be told in an episodic format, they can be told in a grand novelesque manner. 12 episodes of a series can be written as if it’s a 12 hour movie with huge character and plot arcs.
Did I mention that back in the day, we had 22 hours to fill? Now it’s a lot less. Another change, but I digress.
Another change has been the disappearance of the middle class of TV writers. People like to talk about the huge salaries that Hollywood people make, but that’s only looking at the tabloid headlines. Most of the people who work in the business make a modest living at it. There was a thriving middle class that made up most of the business, with the small percentage of Superstars at the top and those trying to break in at the bottom. That has been changing for a while. It has a lot to do with how the residual system has been destroyed and the longevity of careers in the business. Getting in as a writer is more difficult. But staying in is even harder. My fear is that we will get to a point that the only kind of Writers we have are either Superstars or hobbyists; those few who make millions and those who can’t make a sustainable living at it.
Moving into the early 90’s, you were a creative mastermind behind the highly underrated series, Swamp Thing! I remember feeling my little 8 year old heart break when I learned that there would be no more Swamp Thing. What was your experience like in adapting such a legendary story for the television? Any fond memories during the period of the show’s run?
Swamp Thing was such a wonderful show to work on. And for one of the most illogical of reasons; we had no money to shoot it.
As background, Swamp Thing was a DC Comics character introduced in “House of Secrets #92.” Created by Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein, it became very popular and spawned its own comic book series. In 1982, Wes Craven wrote and directed a movie about the character. There was also a sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing. In the early nineties, USA Network decided to run a TV series around Swampie.
I wasn’t involved in the first season of Swamp Thing. Twenty two episodes were aired, but apparently it wasn’t doing as well as it should, so the network agreed to bring it back if the budget could be cut in half. With the exception of Boris Malden (a true genius in production), all the producers were released from their contracts. They needed a new Writing/Producing staff so they called on Tom Blomquist (remember him from my breaking-in story?). He immediately hired me and another producer name Jeff Myrow. We were told there was very little money. My pay was the lowest I had accepted in years. But the order was going to be 50 guaranteed episodes and I was promised more responsibility and the opportunity to work with an old friend, Tom. So I took the job.
Now, when I say we didn’t have money, believe it. Our budget was so low that we could not afford any overtime of any sort. Most series would run over and just pay the extra. We could not afford that. Anything we didn’t get in the camera we just didn’t have. We’d have to figure it out in post-production. This was a half-hour single camera series that and we had only 36 total hours to shoot each episode; not one minute more. And to that, we had no money for optical effects or special effects that couldn’t be shot on the set. If it couldn’t be done through the lens, it wasn’t going to happen. And money for action sequences? Please.
Keep in mind this was a Super Hero series. Super powers were a part of it. Super strength was a part of it. Money, however, was not.
How did that affect us? It made us… FORCED us to be more creative. We couldn’t throw money at a problem to solve it. The first thing we did was admit we couldn’t rely on the flashy eye candy of special effects or super powers. We had to go deeper with the episodes, write character based stories. Swamp Thing morphed into being a voice of our own conscience. Yes, he had his adventures and we sill had a lot of suspense, but we concentrated more on depth of the character and his inner conflict, along with those around him. Anyone who remembers Swamp Thing in the comics will recognize that the character was originally set up that way. In fact, we were getting back to his roots (I accept all blame for puns in this section; it’s unavoidable).
Now this would have all been a complete waste of time if we didn’t have the crew and actors around us to make it happen. Fortunately we were blessed with an incredible crew (many of whom I worked with again on Xena) and talented actors who were a joy to work with. We worked hard on that series and everyone took pride in it. We were dedicated to making this work by pulling every low budget trick we could. We called in favors to get recognizable names to guest star on the series. Larry Manetti (from Magnum P.I.) was talked into some episodes. Philip Michael Thomas (Miami Vice) did an episode at my request. Heck, we even had the singer Debbie Boone in an episode (notable for her song “You Light Up My Life”). We resorted to old theatrical stagings and, at one point, a magic trick in order to create visual effects where they didn’t exist. We had the benefit of shooting on the lot of Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. We used every set we could in that park. If we shot during the day, we’d have people trying to keep the tourists quite while we shot. When we shot at night, it was eerie walking around the different exhibits and rides in the dark (I once got caught in the middle of the Earthquake ride because I was doing a location scout at midnight and the techs were running ride simulations at the same time).
And Dick Durock as Swamp Thing… I am still amazed at what he put into that character. He used to tell me “I’m just a lucky stuntman” (he had been a stuntman on many many series and movies), but he was Swamp Thing. He had played that character in every version of it and rarely ever complained. When he did, he would follow it up by a very self-effacing “But what do I know?” Dick knew a lot. And he invested more in that role than anyone should have been required to. Imagine working a full day in the summer, in Orlando, with that sun beating down on you, wearing forty pounds of foam rubber and prosthetics. When he would take off his boots at the end of the day, sweat water would pour out. And I never heard him complain about it. I wish I had the time to talk about everyone who worked on the show, seriously. Some have become life long friends.
As I mentioned, we had 50 episodes to shoot, three days each, two each week. That meant that the Script Monster had to be fed twice a week, but it takes at least a month and a half to prepare his meal (the script). So we got an immediate jump on writing scripts. Tom, Jeff and I wrote many of them, but we farmed many of them out to freelancers. When we started production, we had an amazing 25 scripts in final form, ready to be shot. By the time we got to the last episode, we were spending our entire weekends writing feverishly and sending pages directly to the set. That Script Monster will not be denied his regular meal.
Somehow we did it. And we were so close to our budget at the end, it would have been pocket change to make up the difference. I have too many fond memories of that series to relate here.
Later on in that decade you made you way into the world of Xena: Warrior Princess, which may be where some people may recognize your name the most, as this was a massively successful show that amassed a huge cult following that still seems to occur today. So how did you come to work on this show as a writer and consultant, to eventual producer?
Remember Babs Greyhosky? I mentioned her before, she was the showrunner of Riptide, the person who hired me for my first job. I got a call from her one day and she told me that she had just started working as a Supervising Producer on a new series. It was a spin off of the series Hercules, starring Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst, about an evil Warrior Princess who goes up against Hercules. Hercules defeats her and convinces her to reconsider her ways. Babs told me she wanted me to come in and meet the producers and that there was a character she thought I would really enjoy writing. The character was Salmoneous, played by Robert Trebor.
So I went in to meet Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart as well as Liz Friedman. They told me about the new series, Xena: Warrior Princess, and gave me a breakdown of the characters. Now, I had already seen Hercules on TV and knew a bit about it already. Hercules was half god, half man. He went up against mortal warlords and the gods of Olympus. So I asked a natural question: do they ever deal with demi-gods? They weren’t sure what I meant, so I pitched an idea completely off the cuff about the demi-god Morpheus. Rob really liked the idea, so when I came back in later to do an actual pitch, they wanted me to write that episode.
I wrote the first draft for it and, based on that, they asked me if I would come on board. They already had a full complement of producers, so they couldn’t offer me a producer’s position. Even though I had already produced two series at that point, I actually think they just were being cautious. In any event, they asked me if I would be a creative consultant on the series. I wasn’t working on a show at the moment, and I really liked the series concept, so I accepted.
A couple of month later, Babs left the series to pursue another project. I realized they now had a producing slot open, so I approached RJ and reminded him of my background. He agreed with me and took it to Rob, who agreed as well. Sam Raimi, Rob’s partner, also signed off and, boom, I was the new Supervising Producer.
Later on, I was moved up to Co-Executive Producer.
The series was, truly, a great experience. The number of talented people involved with that series, from the crewmembers working on the set to those of us in the producer’s office, to the actors and actresses and, even, the executives at the studio really made Xena work. I’ve referred to it as catching lightning in a bottle. Casting Lucy Lawless in the lead role and giving her a perfect match with Renee O’Connor cemented it. Not that we didn’t have our differences, we were very much a dysfunctional family at times. We had no idea we were making something that was going to impact pop culture, or that it was going to have huge critical, merchandising, and ratings success. We were just hoping we could do something we would be proud of and have a great time in the process. Oh, and hoping to get a second season. Somehow it all worked out and I ended up with a great experience and some wonderful friends along the way.
Many of those friends were originally fans of the series that I got to know over the years at the various fan conventions. I can tell you, I have never met a more committed, loving, charitable group of people in my life. Those fans have raised well over 23 million dollars for charities world wide in the name of “The Greater Good”. It’s a nod to the title of an episode I wrote and I’m humbled by the incredible giving nature of the Xenites.
And, of course, I always give a tip of the hat to our big brother, Hercules. Xena would not have happened if it weren’t for the success of Hercules to spin off from.
Can you tell us a bit about your book The Non-Use Friendly Guide For Aspiring TV Writers? I am very intrigued. What made you want to write this book?
The complete title is The Non-User-Friendly Guide for Aspiring TV Writers, Experience and Advice from the Trenches (not what you want to know but what you need to know). The truth is, that title was my little joke. My publisher decided he liked it, so it remained.
It wasn’t originally intended to be a book. Since I have had a fairly high internet presence, I would see many aspiring screenwriters asking questions online about the business. So I began to answer them. After a while, many of the questions were repeated by others, so instead of typing a new response every time, I started to keep a log of my answers. I would rewrite them to the new question to address specific details, but eventually I had a file of questions and answers.
Enter Kevin J. Anderson, the popular Science Fiction writer. Kevin and I had known each other for quite a while, we were friends, and we had been thinking of collaborating on a project. But since he knew absolutely nothing about Hollywood or the business he had a lot of questions, so I sent him my file and told him to take a look. He read it and suggested (strongly) that I publish it through his own company, Wordfire.
And I didn’t. At least, not at first. It took a few years of him reminding me of it before I finally agreed.
So the book is, as I mentioned, about the business. It is not to teach someone how to be creative and tell a story. Nor does it get bogged down in the details of format. Yes, I touch on those things, but only to facilitate the business aspect. The questions I address are things that range from getting an agent, branding yourself in the business, how to dress and act in meetings, how to prepare for pitching ideas and pilots, and a lot of the things that aren’t really addressed in many other books. And although I think I’m diplomatic in my answers, I don’t sugar coat it. It is also interspersed with little anecdotes about my life and career. Those stories are meant as optional diversions, but also to give you a sense of who I am and how I view things. I believe it’s necessary to understand the context of the advice before you can apply it to your situation (a couple of the stories you’ve read here are included).
Kevin will tell you that I am horrible at self-promotion. I really am, I don’t try to pressure people into buying the book, I don’t go out of my way to push it on others. So I will, as per my obligation to Wordfire, say that you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through the Wordfire website. Objectively, it really is a good look into the business if you are intending to make Television Writing a career.
When you look back on your illustrious career, what would you say you are most proud of?
Most people who know me know that I’m not really wired for the “list your favorite” type of question. I can’t really point to one thing, one series, one episode, one experience that I am most proud of.
I take pride in the fact that I’ve made people happy in some fashion. That I have the ability to make people feel, to laugh, to cry, and to look at things from a different perspective, that makes me happy. I am humbled when I get letters from people who tell me how their lives were changed by things that I wrote and/or produced.
But, excuse me for being a bit sappy at this moment, I am most proud of my parents. They were the ones who encouraged me and gave me the strength and confidence to pursue the things that made me happy.
What do you have coming up that our reader’s should look forward to? Anything to plug?
There’s a lot going on at the moment. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about most of the film and TV development because they are either still in the works or in the process of negotiations. I continue to develop series ideas and film scripts and make the rounds with the studios and networks. It’s never easy in the best of situations and past success is never a guarantee of future results. I’m great in a pitch meeting, ask around.
Kevin J. Anderson and I have a graphic novel called Stalag-X that we’re very excited about. It’s actually gone through a few tentative releases, but we just signed a deal with Vault Comics and it will be coming out mid to late 2017. We also signed with a company to bring Stalag-X to the screen, but I’m not at liberty to say which company. There will be an announcement in the trades soon.
I have new novel tentatively titled Vill’Annie which I wrote with Peter J. Wacks, another amazing author. It’s part one of a three volume story that creates a new world to play in. That novel in still in the editing stage, so I’m not sure when it’s coming out.
I’m excited about another novel called Harry O’Fell that I’ve been working on. I have already written the pilot script and screenplay, but I decided to go for the trifecta and get the novel done.
I am also featured in an upcoming documentary called Battlefield: Home – Breaking the Silence, written and directed by Anita Sugimura. This documentary deals specifically with the difficulties of military families and returning veterans during war. It’s wonderfully heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Brats will understand.
I do make appearances now and then at Comic Cons, as well doing radio shows and interviews online. I’m a guest on Combat Radio on LA Talk Radio from time to time and I do guest speaking at universities and colleges around the country. I’m rebuilding my website, but it will eventually list my appearances.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
The problem with this question is, much like writing, I will constantly be editing it as things change. I prefer the mystery of the next thing that will make me smile. It keeps me moving forward with optimism.