Podcast Episodes

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you the writer-producer of two of TV’s most legendary shows King of the hill and Silicon Valley John Altschuler.

I’m not a particularly angry person but I enjoy anger. I enjoy being pissed off and going, wait, what the.

Now I could do the entire episode only quoting those two shows seriously test me. I’ll do it but that would leave out some of his other great work such as Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory The good family Lopez and the countless other hours of television he’s helped create. And this is all coming from a UNC alum who succeeded despite a less than stellar film department. And got his first break with the help of a single dollar bill.

It was called the half-hour comedy hour and it was an interesting time because this is pretty cool what you’re doing because you’re in a program where you’re actually learning how to do things well. I majored in economics and anthropology. A I had an interest in them but B because the department at Carolina was so terrible in film so terrible. They literally had equipment that they wouldn’t let the students use because they may break it. So you couldn’t use it. So what happened is these guys who were the people that you really need on campus started a student television station. Then you have the people that you don’t really need me and Dave Krinsky and some friends who went well they went to the trouble. Let’s go take their cameras and make our silly show. And so it was flat out sketch comedy. You know we’d have things like Bonnie and Clyde and Ted and Alice. We had a sketch called plant boy about a boy that was raised by wild plants. You know and we had a segment I love students talk about things they don’t know or understand because you could go to any student on any campus and go what do you think about X and they’ll start talking they don’t know anything about it they’ll start talking. So it was a flat out sketch show and it did us a lot of good though because back then yes it was a VH not VHS three-quarter-inch tape and it was all you know back in the old days but it looked pretty good. So that we could actually show people things because back then there was a high barrier to entry. It was hard to get equipment. It was hard to make things. So we had something that looked semi-professional to show. I actually kind of miss the days of a high barrier because now every moron is putting whatever there’s such a low barrier which at first I thought is great because that makes it more democratic. But then you go Oh God you just wish there was a little bit of a barrier because they send it to me and I got to look at it you know. But what it did is it made me realize that well even though I was an economics major I don’t want to work in a bank. And I’ve always wanted to do comedy. So we’re trying to figure well. See I’m in North Carolina with my partner Dave Krinsky and I’m delivering pizzas. I’m not connected to anybody I have no connections. What what can I do. And I thought well what if we got published and this is actually one of the things I’m most proud of. So there was this magazine called National Lampoon and it was a humor magazine and it was kind of important back then meant a lot to me. And what I found out is that they didn’t accept unsolicited material. What do you do so what Dave and I did I said Well this is what we’ll do. We’ll put a packet together and we send it to the three editors who ran National Lampoon we sent it to each of them. And I said I know you don’t accept career letters blah blah blah but here’s a little something for your time. And I enclosed a dollar with each with each letter we had like three or four ideas. This was I mean back in the day. So I’m delivering pizzas. I get home from delivering pizzas. The phones ringing. I don’t even think we had an answering machine. I pick it up and this guy says Can I speak to John Altschuler. I go This is him. This is Chris Simmons National Lampoon. Money talks. What have you got. And I’m like money. He’s like Yeah I got your dollar right here. And so I was like Well we’ll have something. And he goes great. Get something together send it to us. We’ll look at it. And they published our first piece which was there was a famous actor called John Belushi. He was in animal house. He died of an overdose and they arrested the woman who sold him drugs and I kinda felt like she was being railroaded because they were blaming her. Now this is an out of control actor. And so basically the premise of our first piece was that she was going to get out of prison and all of Hollywood was terrified because they thought Oh my God. You know and you know Richard Pryor was scared of what she was going to do to him because she obviously has this this power so they publish that. And what that allowed us to do was to put these two concepts together published writers in a magazine people had heard of. And here’s some funny sketches for them to look at. And that opened the doors by being published and then having this it made it so we were seen as not complete schmucks. Just partial schmucks. So when we came out here and started banging on doors. We could say oh published in National Lampoon. Here’s one of our pieces. It was the only piece. But here’s one of our pieces. And if you want to see this you know so that’s that’s how we used it.

All right. Not to sound too much like an old man but when I was a kid. National Lampoon was the greatest humor magazine. It launched so many remarkable writers careers and produced movies like Animal House vacation Van Wilder. There’s actually a pretty good Netflix movie about it called a futile and stupid gesture. So National Lampoon came originally from a group of writers at the Harvard Lampoon. And Mr. Altschuler discovered that unfortunately not being a Harvard alum really slowed down his entry into the professional world of comedy writing.

There’s an interesting thing I didn’t go to Harvard. So that’s a recommendation to everybody to this day I’ve got a chip against. Even though some of my very good friends went to Harvard it was so crazy because you go meet with an agent and they’d ask you Did either of you go to Harvard. Did either of you go to Harvard. No we didn’t go to Harvard to the point that when we came on King of the hill one of the writers wife was asking me how did you get here. Well came out and I worked as a P.A. for like two or three years trying to write you know and she’s like a P.A. Well that’s a terrible job. Why would you do that. I’m like cause I don’t have any money you know. And I didn’t go to Harvard. Where you just waddle off a boat show you know flop down and they give you a job on The Simpsons. One of the funniest things in the show another period was that they had this joke about everybody from Harvard gets a job on The Simpsons. But I went to the University of North Carolina great school. It wasn’t a connection school and my family. My dad was a merchant seaman who became an anthropologist. My mom was fascinating but a homemaker we were we had no connections. I mean it took me I was out here six months before I had my break of getting a job as a P.A.. But what was great about that is that I was a P.A. for this guy Howard Gottfried and Howard Gottfried produced network altered states the hospital. He was Paddy Chayefsky’s producer and one thing I learned whatever job you get just do that. Well. All I did was I made sure that they had coffee in their. If they went like this. There was coffee there. I never talked about Hollywood. I never talked about writing. I never talked about anything. All I did was make sure if a canister needed to be there it was there. So they loved me. And what. And so what happened is Howard Gottfried comes up to me and goes look you don’t want to be a what do you what do you want to be. I want to be a writer. Well let me read what you’ve got. Gave him some stuff he read it he’s like. Well let’s talk. So then I’m walking through Beverly Hills talking writing with Howard Gottfried who produced the greatest you know screenwriter in history. So that is a very important thing that nobody cares if you’re here. Just don’t be crazy and make their lives easier and they will look out for you. They will want to help you because you made their day that much easier. I was a very good P.A. actually I think I was much better at being a P.A. than a writer. I mean writing that I’m a very good P.A..

All right. To his credit few writers out there would actually brag about being a great production assistant. But then again few writers are like John Altschuler. Even though he spent time originally in front of the camera. Mr. Altschuler realized that he was so much better suited to life behind the scenes.

The great tragedy is that I would love to be able to perform but I’m not good. I did a little on king of the hill I would slip in some voice over because I can do a myriad of rednecks. I can do like you know rednecks from eastern North Carolina through to the mountains I can do country I can I can do all the rednecks but I am not talented. I want to be talented. I love. Okay. So whenever we do table reads I always do. You know the directions. And if a parts oh we don’t have Oh Pam Adlon’s not here today. I’ll be Bobby Hill you know because I love it and I’m terrible. And the other thing is if you work with like Mike Judge is one of the best actors he’s gonna start doing more and more acting. And so that’s even more frustrating like when we worked with Mike on Beavis and Butthead to see somebody who’s just a. Genius like he would turn his back like you write the stuff he goes into the recording booth and he turns his back and you see this figure. A lot of times when people you’re recording for animation for example if they do multiple voices they do all one voice then all another voice so they can. And I’m watching this. It was it was almost freakish. He’s doing all the roles back and forth not stopping.

Pull My Finger.

Uh uh.

Pull My Finger dude.

No way.

Come on. Pull my finger.



That was cool.

So he’s real talented and I’m not so I write.

Well it’s a good thing he actually doesn’t have more acting talent because if he did he might never have joined Mike Judge’s king of the hill.

I tell you what man you go blowed up them dynamite an old cannon like that. A boom.

Soccer was invented by European ladies to keep them busy while their husbands did the cooking.

That’s my purse. I don’t know you.

Man I loved king of the hill shows like a national treasure and as a writer it was more than just a job for John Altschuler. It was a chance to vent a lot.

One of my proudest moments is when Mike Judge told we were at some conference and he goes king of the hill we basically have 150 episodes about what pisses John off. So basically you know it’s like I go to the vet and they’re telling me it’s either an eleven dollar pill or a twelve hundred dollar procedure. And I’m like well why don’t you try the eleven dollar pill. I wouldn’t feel good doing that you know. So I realize these vets have you over an emotional barrel. So I do an episode about it like when when this kid was panhandling to me and I didn’t realize that his jacket cost way more than mine it pissed me. So you do an episode on it so I’m not a particularly angry person but I enjoy anger. I enjoy being pissed off and going wait what the. That’s where most of the ideas like I have a project about Bay Area terrorists from the 70s. Okay. And I grew up on college campuses then. I hate these people. Okay. These are the ones who like rolling pipe bombs under cop cars and then like it was based on this woman who I hated so much. Her name was Kathy Soliah. She was the soccer mom in Minnesota who they found out that she was in the Weather Underground. You know they killed two cops and then another bystander. And then she went away and her defense when they caught her was everybody was doing it and I was like well that’s that’s just great. So I developed a whole series about everybody was doing it because that’s like what became very clear to me. Is that OK. I started doing a little checking on you know the Symbionese Liberation Army who kidnapped Patty Hearst. I’m looking at this Web site. Their symbol was a nine headed Hydra. OK and I’m going wait a minute. That means at some point a bunch of wanna be revolutionaries were in a room going what’s our symbol. Well I don’t know how bout a tiger. No not a tiger how bout an elephant. No not an elephant. How about a Hydra. And then they got to nine heads OK. And I realized well that’s a scene that you never see. OK. So it all started from anger. Because this woman really pissed me off. And I hate these people but I love them. P.J. O’Rourke who was the editor of National Lampoon he goes you know the thing about you know being in the 60s and 70s he goes everything we did was wrong. Everything was terrible but it was fun. And it was like Oh my God that’s what you never see like when I grew up in Carbondale Illinois. I remember seeing mimeographs. That said Riot tomorrow three o’clock OK. And so I was like eight or nine. We’d go watch the riots. And I can tell you the riots that you saw in real life had nothing to do with a riot shot by Robert Redford. It’s like they were having fun. They burned down the oldest building on campus and they were it was a blast. And I was like Wait you don’t see that. And then the last piece came when I realized that when you read the Anarchist Cookbook which was this bomb making book and you realize that forming a terrorist group in the 70s was like forming a garage band in the 90s that literally instead of them needing a bass player could somebody make a bomb you know. So basically the things that piss me off usually create a spark and I go Oh wait why am I pissed off. What is it about this. You know privilege tends to piss me off. You know so I go Okay well wait what is this. And then I start twisting because my son told me something that I just loved is that a kid in his class went out on a limb and he said I think racism is bad. And I was like. That’s just great because there are people that think that other normal people think racism is good. You know like and so like on king of the hill. I ran king of the hill with Dave Krinsky for eight years. What I’d tell the writers is that everything’s gotta be turned on its head. We’re not going to do an episode about racism unless we’re saying racism is good. We’re not going to do an episode on book burning unless we’re saying. Book burning is good. And the closest we got with the racism one was Hank Hill having a racist dog and what it turned out is that the dog wasn’t racist it hated figures of authority and we never got the book burning one to work. But this is the problem with this. This is not a big thinking town is that somebody could actually go. Well you know what. On whatever you know on who’s got a maid we’re going to tackle illiteracy because illiteracy is bad. You know like or racism is bad. It’s the obvious. Where. Well let’s look at the humanity behind all of this and turn it on its head.

He’s right. Nothing is more deadly to comedy than over sentimentality. For instance the entire hill family. They love each other but episodes didn’t usually end with a simple hug and an aw from the audience. We love this characters specifically because they are so flawed and imperfect. That’s OK. So are we. And that attitude that approach to character has continued to serve John Altschuler incredibly well on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

I memorized the hexadecimal times tables when I was 14 writing machine code asked you a nine times F. It’s fleventy-five.

I have a question. That was horrible.

This guy f**ks am I right.

With all due love to the Big Bang Theory Silicon Valley feels so much more like we are truly immersed in the world of zeros and ones. And though Mr. Altschuler is surrounded by engineers in his family. It was Bill Gates who inspired the show but not in the way you’d expect.

My brother is an electrical engineer my brother in law is an electrical engineer and my niece is an electrical. I’m surrounded by electrical engineers. OK. And I’ve always been attracted to situations that have been described incorrectly. Like my brother my brother in law. None of these people are on the Big Bang Theory. You know what I mean like it didn’t quite make sense. And then I was reading the biography of Steve Jobs and there was a quote in there where Bill Gates was ridiculing Steve Jobs and he said the guy can’t even write code.

Jobs was a poser he didn’t even write code.

You just disappeared up your own a**hole.

And I thought the guy created the biggest brand in the world. And there’s somebody up in Silicon Valley sniping at him as like this is hilarious. And I didn’t know what it meant. So I called my brother and he explained to me what code was and so I got interested in it. And so then I was talking to Mike Judge because you know we were partners and he just thought that was the funniest thing. He studied physics and loved the idea. Just this idea that nobody once again it’s not that there aren’t classic geeks. Like on the big bang theory that’s the best example. But it wasn’t who we knew. Like the guys we know wore Greek fisherman hats and played in 1920s bands and they like. It just didn’t mesh. And so the fact is is that although it was all tangential. It was something that you kind of felt then. I said well let’s start researching this. And we went up to Silicon Valley and it was so funny because I studied anthropology and you started realizing this was a subculture.

These programmers there’s always a tall skinny white guy a short skinny Asian guy fat guy with a ponytail some guy with crazy facial hair and then an East Indian guy. It’s like the trade guys until they all have the right group.

Everybody was talking about their numbers you know you’d go meet someone Well I was number eight. At what company number eight. And so what it was is that you rank yourself by how low your number was because that meant that you were early on a company and then this was in the pilot and through the series is that everybody kept talking about how they’re making the world a better place. We’re going to make the world a better place. We got we’ve got an app that will like make your water go it’ll make the world a better place.

That’s why I started this place to do something big to make a difference.

We’re making the world a better place.

We could really make the world a better place.

Hooly is about innovative technology making the world. A better place. Through minimal message oriented transport layers.

I kind of thought that’s hilarious because I miss the days when somebody said we’re going to build a locomotive that goes through here. You know they can’t just do anything they’ve got to. So the sanctimony was so thick. That’s what this is something to make fun of. And then the more that you researched it the bigger the target seemed. And the fact is is that it’s more fun to take on the big guys and try to deflate them and these guys really need deflating because they’re they’re really you know it’s what is it Google they had a motto that was like do good. I’m like well you know Hitler thought he was doing good. You know Mao thought he was doing good. All these people think they’re doing good. I don’t need that guy to have all the power in the world to do good. So anyway so that was the inspiration the answer to your question is that a little bit of knowledge a fair amount of research and a lot a little anger. And I think it was helpful that we were outside and then it helped that Mike had his own axe to grind. He hated being an engineer so desperately you know office space was about you know he got a job you know basically low level engineering and he kept thinking of how he was going to kill himself. So it’s a love hate relationship with Silicon Valley.

This love hate relationship is embodied by Silicon Valley’s characters who are driven to succeed in an industry where they seem to despise pretty much everyone of their peers kind of like what Groucho Marx used to say I don’t want to be part of a club that would have me as a member.

Hey what do you guys think about this Jared. He’s s**t right.

Oh god. The marketing team is having another bike meeting. Douchebags.

Look at me. I travelled back to 2009.

F**k you guys you all think you’re John Lennon until someone waves a dollar in your face.

Over its run the show has been forced to evolve after losing two of its key cast members first with the untimely passing of Christopher Evan Welch who played Peter Gregory back in season one and then more recently T.J. Miller’s abrupt exit from his career defining role as Erlich Bachman.

You’ll see this on a multitude of shows going back to Cheers and probably father was it. We had this great actor Christopher Welch who was in out first season.

Welcome to the Peter Gregory Foundation’s fourth annual orgy of caring. The first three were. Fine.

He was a great great actor a great man. You just figure it out. I don’t like talking about this particularly because I’m very fond of T.J. But the fact is is that you just adapt and I have to say it’s much easier in this day and age. We did. Eight episodes 10 10 10 and then eight episodes. OK this is like I mean on king of the hill we did 24 episodes a season. Okay. You get a monkey wrench there with limited resources. The truth is. With HBO and doing eight episodes that season you just do what you need to do. It’s sort of it’s just the job. I know that sounds vague but basically things happen like oh we just lost our building and we’re doing Die Hard. Well what are you going to do you know you just. Adapt and figure out well what matters what doesn’t matter. What were the strengths of this situation and how how best to do it.

Like the rag tag team that makes up Pied Piper on Silicon Valley. Mr. Altschuler gets by a little help from his friends namely co-writer Dave Krinsky and the man who gave us office space. King of the Hill. And not to mention Beavis and Butthead Mike Judge unfortunately Like pied piper sometimes the logistics of working together can get a little complicated.

Dave and I are writing partners so there’s not really a division per say. It’s a little a weird thing is that like Dave and I are traditional partners but even within that I do some things by myself. Mike does some things by himself like he did this animated thing for Cinemax about touring bands. He just did that himself. And then we’ll come together and it’s an interesting thing is that it’s kind of sad to me in a way is that Dave and I have to be very careful when we work with Mike. Mike is one of my better friends and he’s immensely talented. But what happens is that when Dave and I do things with Mike. It’s all about Mike Judge. So this was actually quite a problem with Silicon Valley because you come up with a show you write and HBO made it very clear. This is Mike Judge and it’s not his fault. But it’s interesting because he was on Howard Stern and three times he tried to bring me up and how the show. Howard Stern didn’t want to hear it. He wanted to hear about Mike Judge. And so what we do is like I’ll write something or Dave and I will write something and like for example Mike Judge wants to direct city of Bell. And what we’ve found is that that’s the best way for us to operate because that way he can come in when it’s established at some level and it doesn’t just become I mean I still remember and you know it’s not a problem but we turn in the script for Silicon Valley and it comes back untitled Mike Judge project and you’re like what OK. But the fact is is that it’s not like he ain’t doing the job on the show and it’s not like he wasn’t you know immensely I mean he’s had to work more on Silicon Valley than Dave and I. So the dividing the you know we helped Mike with just about everything that he does he helps us. But we have to kind of keep some things separate like Dave and I did Blades of Glory. We did that separately because otherwise we’re just seen as an adjunct to Mike and it sucks because we all just love working together. But he understands that as well you know because it’s awkward for him because he’s a great guy. So he doesn’t like taking credit for things that you know or taking too much credit.

Mr. Altschuler’s ability to turn aggravation into art eventually brought him to a new project he’s currently developing based on the remarkably crooked politicians in the city of Bell California.

It comes to me you know it finds me you know it’s like I don’t have to go like There’s a project that we’re I think well. Have you ever heard of the city of Bell City of Bell is the most corrupt poorest city in California with a city manager who’s paying himself eight hundred thousand a year. I was so mad about the way that the local governments are in California with all these people four hundred thousand there. It’s another thing I hated this guy so but I loved him because if you check into the you know this guy Rizzo and all these people they didn’t have a chance. They are the truly disenfranchised. They were ugly they were dumb they had no connections and they figured it out. They cracked the code you know. And so basically I was like well that’s a series. So it started off with me just going god you know these people piss me off but usually not always the things that pissed me off. It just sort of wakes me up and I go whoa whoa what’s going going on here. And I have written things that don’t piss me off. There’s one project that you know it’s something that you guys probably should. I was gonna talk about a little bit is the business has changed so dramatically. Like I had a project which was a Napoleonic war comedy. And here’s the thing. And everybody told me not to write a Napoleonic war comedy sat down and wrote a Napoleonic war comedy and we had Johnny Depp everybody in the world wanted to be this character. Well we had the money we had Steve Carell wanted it. We had Jay Roach to direct it. And Steve Carell didn’t want to go to Europe. It was well within two years the world changed and the 53 million dollars went to 35 million went to 28 million. So now what I’ve done is I’ve redeveloped it as a it’s now the continuing adventures of Brigadier Gerard as a 10 episode series like Sherlock that Bay Area terrorist project started out as a movie. Can’t make movies anymore. So I’ve converted them into these sort of limited series which I like but I also I love movies. So it’s kind of like I want it to circle back because not every idea is worthy of dragging out for twelve hours.

So this might not be shocking news but TV has changed a lot over the last 10 years thanks in no small part to Netflix Hulu and Amazon Prime. And just like TV’s changed so it’s the process of selling television starting with the pitch.

It’s changed okay. It used to be that I would always have three ideas. And you’d sort of pitch and you knew they didn’t like one idea and then you sort of held back one. So we’d have three ideas that we would pitch. Now. I’m not sure how important pitching is anymore because now the executives. Want to see things. I mean it’s not that they don’t want you to pitch. I mean fortunately my agents and my manager like Dave and I and they like me is that I’m actually a good pitcher. You have if you said oh you know pitch me one of your stories. I can do it. I do it. Lively and engaging and I you know. But even though I’m good at it. I don’t like it I don’t like doing it because I’m not sure how it works anymore. So now I basically and this sounds vain but I say I don’t want to go in unless they’re already buying it now they don’t have to buy it but unless they’re buying it I’m kind of like well why do I go. So here’s the thing. You should always pitch when you’re starting out. Why do you pitch A. It helps you focus your stories because you start seeing when I hit a bump and I need to make these adjustments. Okay so it helps you tell the story which will help you write the story. You will also make connections with the people that you’re pitching to. And it may not sell then but they’ll move up the ladder. You will have known them. So it’s a good thing. So let’s just say that pitching does matter what I would say is you go in have your story and try to start off with a topic sentence or a personal story like I told you. This is how the city of Bell came to me. OK this is how Silicon Valley I’m reading this book. What the hell. OK. You try to grab them. Now here’s the thing. I do not like pitching. And then they and then they go here and it makes me want to die. OK. And you can see them kind of. OK. So what I like to do is to know everything but to try to make it a conversation like I sold the project to NBC called the deplorables. And this is the I’ll give you the quick pitch is that basically the whole show is about these people that are truly the most marginalized population in the country. Nobody likes them. Nobody wants them. And they’re deplorable but they are not Republicans. They’re not Democrats. They hate big government. They hate big business. They feel like they’re screwed by everybody. Okay. And then I started talking about well and I want to have a character who is from this area who moved to Atlanta his his parents moved away from this sort of feuding area to Atlanta. Because I want to do a reverse Green Acres. So I’m just having a conversation about what interests me and then they can say oh well what’d be a story of the show and the dad says he’s talking to the cousins. I’m worried about Byron that he’ll fit in. And they go well tell him to get his gun and we’ll take him hunting and everything’s going to be great. And Mike has to let him know he’s 11 years old. He doesn’t have a gun. Well is he a felon because that’s the only way that they can imagine a kid not having a gun. Well what ends up happening the kid blows his thumb off. But what they do and this is real is they take the toes from corpses and they put them on and they make. And so he becomes toe thumb and becomes cool in the new town. So I sort of start off with a big picture and then just kind of until it’s a personal story about a kid and his dad. Blowing his thumb off and replacing it with a toe.

John Altshuler is always finding his personal connection to material be it an animated propane and propane accessories salesmen or Silicon Valley’s ridiculous app not hot dog. But as a great man once said If you love something. Set it free.

It’s something that I was told and it is. Completely true is. Don’t hang on to anything. You just gotta let everything go because if it’s great it’ll get back in. Okay but you’ve just gotta be able to throw everything away knowing that you’ll be able to come up with something better and you learn that. Through years of hard knocks. I mean it’s hard I mean and I still do it. I mean there’s something that you love with City of Bell. There’s this aspect. That. I love and I’m going. You know what. It’s just getting in the way. I know better. You just just let it go. Throw it out. And if it’s great it will drift back in.

If being pissed off inspires him then let’s hope he is never happy. Fortunately we are incredibly happy and thankful that John Altschuler spent time with our students and of course thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see or other Q&As. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden Our Creative Director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

That boy ain’t right.

Hi, I’m Peter Rainer I’m a film critic for The Christian Science Monitor and NPR master faculty of the New York Film Academy and author of Rainer on film. Today I’m going to be doing a podcast. The theme of which is the many great film luminaries that we’ve lost over the last many months. Each in their own way represents a bit of film history and have made major contributions to the art of filmmaking. It’s quite a long and sad but also rejoicing list of people and accomplishments that if you aren’t already aware of who these. Filmmakers and actors are then I hope this inspires you to search out their films.

Let’s start with Bernardo Bertolucci Bertolucci was an Italian film director who was most noted for a number of movies including The Conformist Last Tango in Paris. 1900 and The Last Emperor which won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director Bertolucci was a prodigy. One of the most astonishing movie prodigies in the history of film. He directed his first feature when he was 21 called La Commare Secca. That film was not altogether successful but it was certainly prodigious. You could see that there was a born filmmaker at work at the time in the late 60s. The primary influence on so-called art cinema was of the French New Wave. But Bertolucci was influenced I think more so than the others not only by the French New Wave but by Hollywood the conformist was his first major international success. And it was absolutely extraordinary and in some ways it’s his greatest film and his most beautifully directed.

That led to. Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando.

I don’t want to know your name. You don’t have a name and I don’t have a name either no name here.

It remains a towering achievement especially in Brando’s performance. It’s probably the greatest performance. I think that’s ever been put on film Bertolucci followed Last Tango with 1900 which was a truly bizarre movie that had some incredible incredible sequences in it.

Remember when no one believed you could see the city up here. But we managed to see it from here. How close it seemed. Did you manage to see the whole war from here too.

Last Emperor which was his big epic about the last emperor of China that won nine Academy Awards including best picture.

What are you standing there for. You always wanted to leave the Forbidden City. Now you’ve got an hour to pack so go.

It was sort of Bertolucci going Hollywood to some extent but in the way of an artist the important thing to recognize about Bertolucci is that you could watch his films in a state of almost pure rapture. There are all sorts of things that you have to put into a movie besides how a movie looks. You need to do more than just know how to work the camera. But if it all comes together as it did in the best of Bertolucci then there’s really nothing quite like it. He was certainly one of the leading lights of the post-war film generation.

The next director. I’d like to talk about is Stanley Donen who passed away in February of this year. Now he’s not a name that most might know offhand but I’m sure you know some of his movies specifically Singin’ In The Rain which is often called the greatest musical ever made. But starting at the beginning Stanley Donen was originally a dancer. He was in the Broadway production of Pal Joey. That Gene Kelly starred in and Kelly and Donen sort of hit it off to the benefit of all of us. It was one of those things but Donen was somebody who again like Bertolucci was was something of a prodigy. He was in his mid 20s when he directed his first feature which was on the town. That movie really opened up the notion that you could do these big Hollywood musicals and not have them all be on soundstages. The opening sequence where the three guys are bustling around the city is obviously really shot in New York.

What Donen did subsequently was while he brought more realism into the actual locations he also used a lot of more you know movie tricks and things that that didn’t exist before. In general the musical in Hollywood was a genre where you had a lot of stuff going on with the performers and then they would go on stage to do their thing or they would break out into song but there was always sort of a demarcation between the non musical sequences that we were seeing and the musical sequences which were set up to be highly theatrical. But with Donen it was a bit different. He in collaboration with Gene Kelly directed some of the best musicals ever made in this country. As I understand it Kelly did the choreography and Donen did everything else and the marvelous fluidity of the camerawork and the way that he shot the dancing was extraordinary. Donen grew up as a boy marveling at Fred Astaire. So it was wonderful when he finally got to work with Astaire in funny face which he directed in 1957.

Or the movie royal wedding which has that famous scene with Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and the ceilings of that state room.

That’s an example where Donen was able to sort of use the medium of cinema to film musical sequences that you couldn’t duplicate if you were just in an audience watching a stage show. So even though his his background is very much in theater he was one of the film directors who was able to make things much more filmic and that’s had a great influence on on many films of all kinds. Ever since.

Singin’ In The Rain is a film about the transition from silent pictures to Talking Pictures. It’s just a flat out joy from beginning to end and of course it has. The singing in the rain number which you’ve probably seen has Gene Kelly singing in the rain.

The screenwriter Beau Goldman was once asked what’s the greatest scripted scene you’ve ever seen in a movie. And he said it’s the Singin’ In The Rain number from Singin’ In The Rain which is wordless unless you count the song that the Gene Kelly sings. But Goldman’s point was that you don’t have to have a lot of words to have a great scene. But that was not the only high point in Donen’s early career as a musical director. He also did a very interesting picture also with Gene Kelly called It’s Always Fair Weather. It’s a sort of a post-war downbeat musical when musicals began to go on the wane. He moved on to straight films like Charade which was 1963. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. This is a marvelous marvelous spy thriller comedy romance and it’s often called the best Alfred Hitchcock movie that Alfred Hitchcock never directed. He lived in England for a time and directed some very interesting films there. He was a big fan of the British comedians who were rampant then and he directed an interesting comedy called Bedazzled in 1967. He also did a film in 69 that very few people have seen called staircase that had Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as a gay couple which was highly unusual back in the day. There was nothing explicit about it but it was definitely a gay couple and both performances were extraordinary in the 70s. Donen came back with a wonderful comedy called Movie Movie it was sort of a tribute to old Hollywood and it was wonderful return to form even though it wasn’t entirely commercially successful. What we have to remember about Stanley Donen was that he was more than any other filmmaker in Hollywood responsible for creating musicals that had a real cinematic core to them. He really used film in ways that were extraordinarily creative just completely out of the realm of what directors were doing at that time in the musical. He changed the entire landscape of what a movie musical could be. And he did it in a way that was so joyous and so much a tribute to the dancing in these films also the way that he not only featured the dancers but film them to their best advantage is a lasting legacy for him and his films and will always give us great joy.

Moving on now to Bebe Anderson. Bebe Anderson was a great Swedish actress who is known primarily for her work with Ingmar Bergman. She was very much central to that Bergman universe of great actresses that he used as essentially almost a repertory company. He was absolutely extraordinary with actresses and usually the best work of these actresses was with Bergman. Bebe Anderson started out in the early 50s the first time she worked with Bergman was in 1951. He was directing a detergent commercial for television and she was in the commercial. But she really arrived on the scene in two major Bergman movies both made in the same year 1957. Wild strawberries and Seventh Seal Seventh Seal is most well-known I guess to most of you all for the scene where Max von Sydow plays chess with death.

And Bibi Anderson has a role in that as the wife of a peasant in Wild Strawberries Bebe Anderson plays two roles one is kind of a hitchhiker and then in the flashback scenes she plays the cousin of the doctor and she’s marvelous in both roles but the film that she is most known for was persona 1966.

It’s a very powerful and famous film. And Bebe Anderson was quoted as saying at the time that she read the script for the movie and she didn’t really want to play the role because it was the role of someone who was very insecure and scared and vulnerable. That’s not the sort of character that she wanted to be playing in the movies. But she also said well that’s sort of who I am in real life. And so Bergman picked up on that and that’s what he used in creating this role and in directing her and putting her on film. She said to be a great director you also to some extent have to be a great psychiatrist and certainly Bergman was a great master at that but he would only have been a master if he was working with Master actors. So persona is the standout performance in Bebe Anderson’s long career. She was in maybe Robert Altman’s Worst movie a film called quintet. I mean it’s sort of flabbergastingly awful in ways that only a great director could do. But there is a sequence in it where Bebe Anderson has a monologue that’s quite extraordinary. So the the moral there is you can be pretty amazing in a terrible movie even if the movie that surrounds you is awful. You have a chance to shine anyway if you have the material at least in the moment to do it. Bebe Anderson was also directed by Bergman in a number of stage productions. People forget that Bergman’s career as a stage director was was in many ways as voluminous as his film career. I have no. Problem imagining Anderson being as great on stage as on film. But I think she had a natural quality in film that was radiant and she took to the camera like very few other actresses.

Moving on now to Agnès Varda. She was a real Pathfinder in the history of women directors in cinema and is only being recognized in full now because of partly her longevity I mean she she died fairly recently at the age of 90 and had received an honorary Oscar. And she also was nominated for a documentary that she did. I believe the oldest director to ever be nominated for an Oscar. But aside from all that her beginnings are quite interesting she started out as a photographer. She really was able to incorporate the integrity of the image into her film directing in a way that was quite integral to who she was as an artist. She is often called the godmother or the mother of the French New Wave which was a great efflorescence of cinema that started in France in the late 50s. Her first film was called La Pointe Courte. It was kind of in the neo realist vein of Visconti and Antonioni and directors like that. But her first feature was barely seen and not commercial in any way so it was some time before she did her next picture like six years Cleo From 5 to 7 it was called it was an amazing movie that really sort of put Varda on the map. Even then they didn’t always take her seriously. Her first feature was reviewed in The New York Times and it said the only thing worth noting about this movie is that it was made by this 25 year old girl but Varda’s career over time was unlike any other director. She was never really a part of the French New Wave in any real aesthetic way. She was part of what was instead called the Left Bank movement the Left Bank movement was sort of much more experimental and intellectual than the French New Wave. Her films are much more haphazard and handmade and I think that came from her photography background as well. She tended to see things in very particular ways. You know she she sort things out she saw film and film imagery as almost artifacts of experience in the late 50s. She married the great French director Jacques Demy he directed Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the success of that film brought to him and Varda to Hollywood. She loved Los Angeles and she had a connection to the city for the rest of her life. And she did a number of documentaries while she was here. She became involved with some of the Warhol people who were on the West Coast. She also was involved with the Black Panthers and Eldridge Cleaver and Dennis Hopper. You know she was part of that whole world but her films were influenced much more by the history of photography than by the history of film. That’s because of where she came from and what she came out of. She loved location shooting. She was one of those directors who the act of filming itself was part of the aesthetic process. She wasn’t bound by the kinds of rigidities that come with you know strict shooting schedules and so forth. Her most powerful movies are her documentaries or films that draw heavily on the documentary experience because that points to her intense fascination with the real and with discovering film and people in the process of training a camera on them of filming them of trying to somehow create something that didn’t exist before. People think that documentaries are quote objective right. That you just show something but the personality the core of the person who’s making these movies is not germane to the film itself. That’s not true. All of the great documentary filmmakers are able to convey what’s happening in front of your eyes in front of their cameras. But in ways that are very very intimate to who they are. But the best of them I think are not coercive and so you have you know the great documentarians who really show you the richness of experience in ways that dramatic films cannot always convey and I think the best of Varda’s documentaries do this as well. As time goes on. And her films become more accessible to a larger audience. They will find that they’re not at all intimidating or quote arty but are really human. Varda lived a long and fruitful life and did it her way which is not what you can say for every film director. She’s now been adopted as a beacon for others to do likewise.

So now we’re moving on to John Singleton. John Singleton was to this day the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Oscar for best director. He was 23 when he filmed Boyz N The Hood. His first feature 24 I believe when he was nominated which was a good year earlier than Orson Welles for Citizen Kane. John Singleton came out of South Central Los Angeles and had a great love of film instilled in him as a film student at USC. He submitted a script for admission that became the germ for Boyz N The Hood which was a very personal movie about the racial strife and violence in South Central. He had a very dedicated idea of what he wanted to be as a filmmaker from a very early age which isn’t always the case. A lot of fine directors find their way into film through other avenues but Singleton was single minded in wanting to be a film maker from early on Boyz N The Hood was a film that he felt he just simply had to get made and made by himself. Columbia Pictures I believe had offered to buy his screenplay but it was not really interested and have him directed. And he as young as he was and as ambitious as he was said thanks but no thanks. And so he was allowed to direct the film. And he stated in interviews that he kind of was learning on the job and because the film was shot in sequence. He felt that the film actually gets better as it goes along because he’s learning more about how to direct as he’s making the movie. It’s pretty strong all the way through it gets more dramatic towards the end but a really signal aspect of this movie is that when you watch it you see that as young as he is. This is a film that Singleton really really wanted to get made. What comes through is that deep deep commitment to the story which can often transcend many other things in a film. So he was creating his own way and his subsequent career he did a film called Higher Learning baby boy. He did a remake of Shaft in 2000 with Samuel L. Jackson. He also did a movie that was powerfully received called Rosewood in 1997 which is about a little known racist attack in Florida in 1923. He expressed some disdain and disappointment for where things were going in Hollywood and the opportunities available to him as a director in an increasingly commercialized industry. So he also produced a number of movies that he didn’t direct. Hustle and Flow did television episodes for shows like Empire and American Crime Story. He was an influence along with Spike Lee and Carl Franklin and several other directors on the youngest newest black filmmakers. Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins took from John Singleton his desire to make films his way he once was quoted as saying about Boyz N The Hood that he had to direct it because no one was going to make the film I wanted to make except me. And so he made it happen. I had occasion to hear him speak several months ago at the academy Theatre in Beverly Hills and he spoke so reverently of what it was like to be in film school and not simply to learn how to make movies but to learn why you make movies. Ultimately you’re in the film business the art of film because you want to tell a story and you want to tell it in a way that matters to people that makes a connection to people. So it’s important to see a lot of the great films that have been made in the past not just because you can talk about movies at parties and impress your friends but as a real central inspiration to what you do for yourself not not to copy other people’s stuff but to see what’s been done and Singleton was saying that evening that as successful as he was he would sometimes call over to the film school and ask what films they were showing to their students because if he had time he would maybe just sit in and watch these films. I was quite moved by that because great movies can not only enhance your life they can change your life and they can also do so much for you as a filmmaker. It’s important to recognize that John Singleton who was first and foremost a film director and writer throughout his career starting at the very beginning wanted to expose himself to these great movies because those are his legacy as his films will be a legacy to any director who has a passion to put his or her story on the screen and to know that if you struggle hard enough there’s a good chance that you can do it.

Doris Day in the late 40s and 50s was a major star in the recording world. Before she ever came a movie actress with Les Brown’s band and many others she was able to captivate audiences with her singing which was not altogether bubbly cheery but had a certain melancholy or worldliness. She was never quite the chipper virginal type that she was characterized as she was a natural in the movies. She had a kind of effervescence. She did a lot of musicals and singing in her early films romance on the high seas etc. And she was very successful at that. But she was in a way a kind of antidote to some of the noir aspects of film that were predominant in the post-war era. There were a lot of slinky vamps and ladies of mystery Who were the counterpart to the very straight laced suburban mom types and the girlfriends and the chipper girl next doors and so forth that were also prevalent in the 50s. So there was a kind of yin and yang in the way Hollywood depicted women. And then here comes Doris Day who was kind of the antithesis in many ways certainly of the vamp character but also to some extent with the totally wholesome girl next door type. She managed to find a way to be herself and yet be sort of iconic as someone that people look to in the movies for good clean fun. She was an adept actress who didn’t stray very far from the kinds of roles that people associate her with particularly her comedies with Rock Hudson. But there were exceptions. She played Ruth Etting in a terrific movie. Love me or leave me where she was a gangster’s moll opposite Jimmy Cagney.

Don’t spoil this picture. It’s the first thing I’ve cared about since New York and I don’t want to lose it. I have to work. Do you understand. I’ve got to it’s all I’ve got.

Shut up you’re gonna work who said different.

She was in a film with Rex Harrison called Midnight lace which was a rather strong dramatic performance in a rather dark movie.

He said he was going to kill me before the month is out.

You got one of the less romantic ones.

Peggy he means it.

They always sound as if they mean it pet.

But I’m scared.

And there were a number of examples of that but I don’t think that that’s particularly what people wanted from Doris Day and it’s probably not in the end what would make her iconic. Doris Day had a marvelous voice in the Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much she sings case Sera Sera which became her theme song in a sense.

She knew how to put a number across. Doris Day often said when asked you know why do people like you so much. You know what is your appeal and she said it’s because when I sing I really mean what I’m singing. And that’s just as important for the kind of movies that she made for the most part as it is for something that would be much darker. And that’s why I think she was so popular during the 50s and 60s at a certain point the kind of image that she projected went out of style in the late 60s and 70s for all of her. Brightness and happy chipperiness as a performer. She had a rather harrowing life with four bad marriages and all sorts of other things. And one of the things that happened was that most of her money was spent by her third husband Marty Melcher and so she did the Doris Day show for television which she really wasn’t crazy about doing but she needed to get her money back. So she did the show was successful but after that in the 70s she she decided that she really didn’t want to do anything anymore. She did say some years later she was tired of doing nothing that she wanted to come back and look out for what I’m going to do I want to be better than ever. But it never happened. She never did come back. It’s a shame in a way that she didn’t work more in the last two or three decades of her career. Not everybody can do what Doris Day did but the career of Doris Day is is a tribute to what you can do as a performer if you really know what you’re best at and you can put a persona across as surely as you can put across a song. And she certainly could do that said.

Just in closing a quick note on Tim Conway who passed away as of this taping last night Tim Conway was almost exclusively a television star with the Carol Burnett Show for many years. He had his own show for a while and he had all sorts of guest appearances on people’s shows throughout the years. He won an Emmy for his appearance on 30 Rock but for those of you who have never heard of him or seen him Tim Conway was known for cracking up. Harvey Korman in their comedy routines they often didn’t rehearse in advance. Korman had no idea what was coming and Conway loved to crack him up. Carol Burnett said he lived for that and you can just see in all of these sketches Corman trying to hold it in sometimes literally and just it’s not happening. There are so many wonderful characters that Conway played the old man on the Carol Burnett Show those wonderful sketches where he’s this exasperated boss with a bad toupee and a large mustache and and an accent that he said was sort of based on his mother’s Romanian accent.

Now like I told you I have this real important meeting with the Mr. Phillips.

Oh yeah he’ll be here at noon.

Oh thank you for that news flash. You have any news on the Hindenburg.

He started out even in the Army apparently he was sort of a cut up. He did radio and then he worked his way into television. But he was such a versatile and funny actor that if you were a sketch comic or you had a show like Carol Burnett’s where you had to turn out so many of these sketches so often he was your sort of all purpose infielder. He could do just about anything. And his sense of timing was as extraordinary as anybody’s. One of the great things now about film and about television is that all of this stuff still exists. You can call up so much from the past on computers and so forth. It’s really wonderful that this stuff still exists for people to enjoy forever and ever. It used to be cliche that they’re gone but their work lives on. But it really is true much more so than it ever has been. And I think that for an actor like Tim Conway it’s a very rare gift to be able to make people laugh in that way to have given such great pleasure to audiences over the years and to have that as a legacy. Especially with so-called clean comedy. I mean there was very little that was off color or anything about what Conway did. He was sort of more in that homespun comedy that was accessible to everybody and just as funny now as it ever was. Rest in Peace Tim Conway.

This is Peter Rainer film critic for The Christian Science Monitor and NPR. And on the faculty for the New York Film Academy author of Rainer on film. Thanks for listening. And until next time.

Hey guys just wanted to let you know that today our guest is speaking about some sensitive subjects.

They’re important subjects but still listener discretion is advised. Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy.

And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and in this episode we bring you a writer who’s collaborated with two of the most powerful women in Hollywood. Wonder Woman.

And Shonda Rhimes.

Writer. Allan Heinberg.

If what you’re concerned with is your name being out there and what people are saying about you and doing you’re not gonna get any work done you’re just not. So by giving up the dream of what. Traditional success looks like I got my name on Wonder Woman.

His TV writing credits spanned from the feels of Party Of Five to the fashionable life of Carrie on Sex and the city.

And the bro-ness of the O.C. to Shondaland on Grey’s Anatomy Scandal and the catch and it all can be traced back to the musical tale of a sad orphan who innocently asked.

Please sir may I have some more.

I started as a singer and as an actor. And I really wanted to express you know and I was gay but I didn’t know it in Tulsa Oklahoma which basically tells you everything. So I had a lot I couldn’t express and a lot I couldn’t be. And I wanted to. And in 1970 Well I don’t even know when it was. I saw the movie Oliver which is a musical based on Oliver Twist and I saw kids my age singing and dancing and acting and expressing and I was like I want to do that. I want to do what they’re doing. And then Annie happened on Broadway and I was like first of all. Andrea McArdle is amazing even as like a six year old seven year old. I was like She’s amazing. So I wanted to do that. And so I started singing professionally really early and. A lot of it was about I want to be on Broadway and I think some of it was like Look at me look at me. But a lot of it was I want to be with other people who like this stuff and don’t think I’m a freak and call me a fag like I want to go where my people are. I loved Broadway I loved the movies I loved TV and so like in Tulsa Oklahoma the only thing I had was the New York Times Arts and Leisure section on Sunday. Once I was old enough to subscribe so like a lot of my focus was like I want to get there even at Yale I wasn’t present. I wanted to skip university and go straight to New York and be on Broadway and write Broadway shows and write movies and stuff. I wanted to get there.

He was really anxious to get his career started.

Yeah yeah. And he was like at Yale which pretty pretty good school you know and he was like No I gotta get to Broadway.

I love the fact how he knew when he was young what he wanted.

It’s like he saw them from afar.


You know Oklahoma as you know.

As I know I’m from Oklahoma I did the same thing. What are these people doing. They’re making noises and running around Oh I like that. You know you see that as a young child and you know that that’s your tribe. Of course you’re going to run to it. Hearing him talk about how that just kind of opened him up to express himself and really delve deep into why do I like this. And this really allowed him to find himself I think is so beautiful.

During this whole time though in the back of his mind had this one character and that character of course was Wonder Woman.

I cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost. It is our sacred duty to defend the world. And it’s what I’m going to go.

It’s such a weird story. I think it was a cartoon called Super Friends when I was 7 years old I think because that was before the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series that took place in 70. I think it started in 76. So I got exposed to the character really early on and fell madly in love with her and was obsessed with her comics for a long time. And then flash forward after I graduated from college and moved to New York. I’d written a play about her my first produced play off Broadway was about Wonder Woman and that play got me out to L.A. and to writing TV and eventually writing movies and then I ended up writing the comic book because DC knew that she was my favorite character and when they relaunched Wonder Woman in 2005 Dan DiDio who’s the publisher offered that book to me and I couldn’t say no. Even though I was really busy doing Grey’s Anatomy and then when I left Grey’s a couple of years had gone by and I asked Peter Roth who who runs the place if Geoff Johns and I redeveloped Wonder Woman as a TV series and we did and it was an odd process because they were really in the Smallville mindset. They didn’t really want the uniform it was grounded was the term. And so basically she was just a super cop. We started it as a kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a mythological creature she’s fighting mythological creatures. They didn’t want that they wanted her fighting crime so then it became sort of a police procedural it was a rough fit because they didn’t want Themyscira. They didn’t want any of the stuff that ended up. It’s such an irony. So the CW basically just killed it after reading one draft they didn’t even give notes. They’re just like No Themyscira no. And I was wounded and sad and then I went back to Shondaland land I did three seasons on scandal and then wonder woman who was being developed as a movie at that point. So my buddy Geoff who who is chief creative officer of DC Comics is very involved in the movies and this was two years ago and I’m a TV writer and usually there’s like a big wall between TV writers and movie writers and like there are some very skilled and talented and highly accomplished screenwriters in town and some of them are very famous and some of them are very famous for doing great work but not getting their names on scripts because you know these movies have like 15 19 writers on them sometimes but it’s usually the same people that get these jobs over and over and over again and it’s a big risk for them to go to somebody like me and say hey you know Allan who’s never written a script since we were at Yale together and I wrote one for my senior thesis. Would you like to write a huge blockbuster tentpole movie. They don’t do that. So I’ve just been quietly supportive of Geoff for these past few years as he’s worked with his people. Then he called and said we’ve hit a wall. This was after about a year of development and Zack Snyder really wants to sort of like go back to the beginning with the character and the fundamentals and he wanted to get his team together with Geoff’s team and like really talk about core character concepts and Geoff very graciously said there’s only one person I want on my team and that’s Allan. So Zack was like Cool. Ask him what he wants from Tender Greens and then see what time he can get here. And so I ordered the chicken. There was a chicken kale salad in case you were interested on the side. No potatoes. It was good. And I get to Zach’s and it’s like me and Geoff and Zach and his assistant Trevor who’s awesome and his team and they’re very intimidating and there are a lot of them and they are very cool and they have tattooed sleeves and they’ve got suspenders and it was very Mumford and Sons there’s sideburns happening and I’m feeling like Hollywood. This is Hollywood and we’re eating Tender Greens but whatever. So we sit down and he starts pitching me where they are with the movie and it’s he’s pitching me. He’s saying Dude here’s where we are. And I said Well here’s the thing. The story that you’re pitching me is very much like her story in Batman versus Superman. She has a brief arc but she has an arc and it feels like you’re telling the same story twice. I said there’s really only one essential Wonder Woman story. And then it gets harder to tell stories about her after you’ve told that story. And that’s the origin story and it’s a fish out of water story and I referenced splash. Mostly I said the problem with Wonder Woman as I have discovered trying to develop her was that she didn’t have an origin myth that was primarily emotional and relatable. People get scared by the gods. They get scared by the Amazons there are a lot of Greek names. There’s a lot. And Batman it’s super easy his parents get murdered and he wants revenge. Super easy and Superman is the ultimate immigrant story. You know he loses his parents and his planet and he goes to his adopted planet and is just trying to be loved by being a good boy. And we can all relate and with Wonder Woman It’s like she’s made of clay and oh god it’s just stops there. So I said to Zach and I later got in trouble for it on the Internet for talking about this. But what I said Is Zach is to me it’s the little mermaid. It’s a really emotional story about a young woman who’s grown up in this very closed world something a lot of us can relate to wanting to go out on her own and try to be herself and a good person and make her mom proud. And you’ve got to a parent like King Triton who really knows how bad the world is and knows that he’s offering his daughter up to a world that does not deserve her. So I tell this story to Zach and I didn’t expect Zach to respond necessarily but I was there to eat my chicken and say my peace and go and then we walk out to the parking lot after about two and half hours three hours and Zach is like so what are you doing tomorrow. Do you think you could be here by 7:15. And I was like for what exactly. And he’s like Dude we’re gonna do your movie. And I was like What. And he was like yeah let’s do that we should do that. Like I’ll get whiteboards. It’ll be you and me and Geoff and we’ll just like rework the movie from scratch. So I was like OK OK OK I’ll do it. Yeah OK.

Can you imagine being a TV writer and the one character that you’ve loved your entire life you then out of the blue basically get asked to write her origin story feature film. It’s going to premiere everywhere your entire life. You loved her.

Yeah I think he willed into existence.

Oh yeah.

Especially because I had false starts like there was a TV show that didn’t happen. And they’ve tried to do other Wonder Woman TV shows that also flopped. This has been like a curse with this character.


They’ve been trying for so long to get this thing a reboot and it was almost like he was just waiting.

Yeah without knowing that that’s what he was waiting for.

Right. Right right right. Just being a friend you know.

I need to make sure I make some good friends.

Yeah I was about to say. And then also to like he was ready.


Because he knew the character he knew the world.

Yeah. But he was only one little problem with all of this. He was already employed.

By Shonda Rhimes.

He already had a contract.

With like the greatest TV producer there is.

So you get offered this incredible deal but you got to go to the boss.

One dream getting in the way of another.

We broke the movie in what I want to say is three days I had to write something for him to pitch to the studio that Monday. So it was like Wednesday Thursday Friday. Write write write. Saturday Sunday. Zach pitches Monday they greenlight this movie that we’ve just rebroken over three days. He says dude now you have to write the treatment. I’m like I’m full time on Scandal dude. I can’t. So he’s like you can do it. I know you can do it. And Zach is awesome. Like when he looks at you with his surfery eyes and like his tattoos and he tells you you can do it no one talks to me that way with. OK. Zach thinks I can do it I can do it. So I write this treatment in a week and it’s you know it’s a lot of words on a page. And then Zach is like cool that got approved you’re writing the script. And I said No no because they needed it in no time. The movie had a release date like we’re now up against it like Michelle MacLaren is scouting locations. That’s who was directing the movie at that time like it’s happening and I know myself and I wasn’t gonna put myself in a position where I could fail at the outset. So I said no. And he was like Do you want me to call Shonda Rhimes. And I said No please don’t do that. I’ll talk to her. Why don’t I talk to Shonda. And we’ll just see what happens. Knowing Shonda’s like fuck no. So I call her assistant and I’m like hey does she have five minutes in the morning and like she’s in my office like that. And she’s like Are you quitting. I was like No you I want to hear two more years on my deal with you you own me. However something has come up and she’s an extraordinary woman like we could do hours on how extraordinary Shonda is. Shonda said well you have to do it. It’s Wonder Woman You have to. And she made it possible. I went down to three days a week like no show runner in town would have said this except Shonda Rhimes. And so the movie was made and it and it was that movie. So Zach was true to his word. Well thank you. Listen I mean you saw it. It’s a relationship movie. It has some fighting in it and stuff but it’s about these two people. Like Zach is a hero to me for championing this vision of this movie. And then when we lost Michelle who wanted to make a different movie Patty Jenkins got involved and really embraced it and took it to the next level and I mean she’s just an incredible human and collaborator. And you know Zach and Debbie Snyder gave all notes along the way. It really was this incredible group effort.

You know it’s interesting the history of Hollywood is written by so many examples of like people who cannot get out of their contract for like the role they dreamt of. But Shonda Rhimes I mean.

The fact that she and she must have known also his history with Wonder Woman. Don’t you think the way he even poses that of how she it. Wonder Woman go.


I think it said it goes to show that you know sometimes you can have this idea of being scared to ask those questions and sounds like he was a little timid to ask her.

Especially her like.

Her. Exactly.

The Wonder Woman of TV.

And the fact that he went there he asked her and she was so understanding that I mean that says a lot about her. But good for him to have that courage to take it on his own and ask.

Right. And I think being around people like Shonda Rhimes or Amy Sherman Paladino who was the showrunner on Gilmore Girls they also taught him like no you stick your guns. That’s how you’re going to get the best script.

I did not get fired although I did try to quit 16 times and they just wouldn’t let me. It’s something I guess I learned it from Amy Sherman Paladino because she created Gilmore Girls and she has a very specific vision and whenever Warner Brothers would push back she’d say OK then I’m just I just won’t do the show because I don’t know I don’t know how to do it that way so I’m going to go and they would go no Amy stop. So that’s what I would end up doing is go like that is a totally valid way to go. I don’t know how to do that. So I’m going to go and they’re like wait wait wait wait stop. Okay we’ll do it your way. That has been the big discovery of my time as a professional writer. It has taken me a while to figure it out and I think I knew it intuitively but I didn’t understand it. I wish I’d understood it sooner and maybe you can relate to this because I think it applies to whatever it is you do. But the job especially writing TV and film the job is to serve like you are here to serve and you’re not here to be walked on. You know whenever they would push back in a way that I couldn’t do I would say I bow out like I’m here to serve the character I’m here to serve the studio I’m here to serve Patty Jenkins and Gal. But like if I’m not able to do what you need me to do. It’s not about me. I’m gonna go. I’m going to leave. And you guys can go on your way. But while I work for Patty Jenkins while I work for Shonda Rhimes or ABC or Warner Brothers I’m here to serve them and the surrendering of ego and caring about what people say about me or think about me or my legacy when I’m gone like all that crap like unburdening myself of that has been the major discovery of my adult life. And it has just made it all much more fun. Do you know any mean like you guys know that any attachment to thinking about how others perceive you or you know how you’re doing in comparison to others what other people think it’s just my ego any suffering I’ve had in this business has been as a result of my ego.

Just letting go and not worrying about other people are thinking just staying true to yourself. I applaud him.

I think it’s funny too it’s like normally you would say someone threatening to walk out is like the height of.


Yeah. Like no I could not have it my way. I am gone. In his case though it was weirdly enough it’s like the total opposite. It wasn’t so much like fighting it and like being like No I have to be this I have to be this and he is like no I’m good.

Like he.

You want something else.

Exactly and he’s doing it for them. You know you want a certain thing. I don’t think I can deliver that. I want you to have what you want. So I’m going to bow out. It’s him being like No I want you to have what you want. I just can’t give it to you.

Go be well. Work with someone else work with one of the other dozen writers.


I’m good.

I’m good. Yeah. And the fact that they keep on. No no no wait no no come back.


They wouldn’t let him go.

And that’s where the script comes from. I mean when you when you see the film you can totally tell. That. He never lost sight of what made Wonder Woman so special to him as this kid growing up in Oklahoma.

It is that ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy. If you had these abilities how would you use them and how would you make a difference or try to. I love that it seems to appeal to the heroic instinct in people or at least that’s my interpretation of it because these are not I think with the exception of that will Smith movie Hancock these are movies about people who want to make a difference and help and in the end Handcock That’s his arc too. And so the impulse to go to them I think is a good one and a and an affirming one. Obviously superheroes had a huge effect on me as a 7 year old because now I’m 50 and I’m still obsessed with the same character. So I think if you get kids exposed to that early enough and they’re the right kid they can have a profound effect like you know fantasies play an enormous role these Star Wars movies especially when I was growing up. You know that had a profound effect on the psyches of all kinds of young people and informed you know sort of who they are. And and and what they believe in. Those are antifascist movies. I mean I’m sure there are fascists who disagree with me but I think when you are exposed to pop culture at an early age it has an absolutely powerful and transforming effect on who you are. And it’s emotional because when you’re so young you’re not jaded you’re not distanced you’re raw you’re you feel everything probably even as young as you guys are. You still feel everything much more directly and so I think they’re profoundly important. I really do. My only goal for Wonder Woman I said this to Patty one day when we were working was I want little boys straight and gay to leave the theater wanting to be Diana you know what I mean because on the playground when we would play superheroes in middle school or not middle school but grade school I would want to be Wonder Woman and you’re immediately a fag if you want to be Wonder Woman. And I just didn’t want another little boy to you know what I mean like that’s not only to avoid the shame of that but also like she’s pretty cool like you know the sort of gender thing not withstanding you should really want to read about her like they wouldn’t even make Wonder Woman Action Figures female action figures for decades because boys won’t buy them they will not buy them and girls don’t. There is no audience for for that with young women. They weren’t writing stories for young women involving superheroes for decades when I was growing up to get a Wonder Woman action figure was that was tough. I think we’ve come a long way. But yeah I think they’re pretty important.

I just wanted to talk about how lucky young girls are who are growing up right now that have all of this to inspire them. I mean he’s talking about it too about how when we were all younger you wouldn’t see those type of women in the movies or action figures and all that. I mean sure she was a comic but we weren’t exposed to that the way that young girls and boys are exposed to it now. And he’s right. We still have a way to go. Oh my goodness. The fact if I was a little girl and I had Wonder Woman to look at when I was younger. I probably would have done so much more or differently at least.

You’d be right now lifting a car to save someone.

I’d be ripped.

And what’s great too Wonder Woman Not only we’ll just say the best of the DC Universe movie so far. I think it’s fair to say.

I’m way OK with saying that.

With all due respect but then also even Justice League how much her character popped.


It was Wonder Woman who really was like the root of that thing and she is now the one that built that DC House in the way Iron Man has built it for the Marvel Universe.

It really opened up the doors for more powerful women to step through.

Wonder Woman made some money right. So that’s the most important thing people showed up for Wonder Woman and it got an enormous amount of wonderful press. Not universally wonderful but I really did not know if people would show up especially women. So we’ve sort of demonstrated that there is a market you know every once in a while a movie comes along to demonstrate that there is a market for this kind of thing. It is very difficult to make something like this a bullseye to hit because we weren’t trying to make a feminist movie. Our aim was just to tell her story as well as we could. So I think it would be a mistake to go past the observation of like oh there is a marketplace for movies like Wonder Woman or Bridesmaids or Sex And The City The Movie. But occasionally these movies come along that say you can make money by telling stories that are primarily emotional stories. I still think you have to get it right and it’s a little scary. So I don’t know. I know Marvel’s obviously doing Captain Marvel which I hope is great and I know there’s been interest in DC in sort of taking that Harley Quinn character and doing more with Harley Quinn. But I think people are gonna see a space like there’s a space that we can serve an audience we can serve. It’s just a matter of it’s not going to be a formula you can replicate I don’t think do you know what I mean. Even wonder woman 2. I was involved in early talks for Wonder Woman 2. And it’s not a magic trick you can do twice you really need to come up with a compelling and emotional story that can stand on its own.

So many of his ideas you know make it to this film. He’s one of the only credited writers to it. Unfortunately, you have all these other writers who also had their connection to wonder woman. Some of them even got hired to write treatments and scripts because in Hollywood you might pay 10 different people to in essence do the same job with only one of them actually having their work make it to the screen or at least have their names appear in the credits. Tough world out there.

Tough world out there. But knowing this character so well and her story so well he was able to shine.

Yeah it’s like he had the depth of his appreciation. He loves the character of Wonder Woman but he also understands why he loves the character of Wonder Woman.

Right. I think it’s funny how he was talking about how they didn’t set out to write a feminist movie yet. Look what they got. And I think that that’s the difference between Allan Heinberg and some some of these other writers. He loves the character sure and he can connect with it but he knows her as well as he probably knows his best friends here on Earth in 4D you know but it goes to show that you know all these other scripts could have been outstanding. But the thing that set his apart. Was how much he knows this character.

It just took. The producers and the studio hiring a lot of people before they found the right one.

I think in total there were twelve screenwriters involved in Wonder Woman each doing his or her own version privately and then you turn it into the studio and the producers and then they usually decide we like this we don’t like this we fire you we hire you but I never read anything anybody else ever does ever. It’s very private because that way it protects them and it protects you. There’s no stealing. I mean like I never had access to any of those documents. Now with some of the bigger superhero movie universes like Transformers like the Marvel universe maybe universal monsters there are things now called Writers rooms where they get a bunch of these screenwriters together for long periods of time like TV writers and they talk about the universe and all the different stories you could tell in that universe. And then usually they end up asking each screenwriter if they want to stay involved which one of these do you want to do at which point the writers all go off on their own. But writers rooms are becoming more and more commonplace. DC was going to do one and then we didn’t end up doing it for scheduling reasons I think but you sign a waiver and you get a nominal fee and you don’t own any of the material that you generate but you get first right of refusal to write one of these movies if you participate.

How fun would it be to be in a writer’s room that you’re just talking about all these different universes and you can come up with all these ideas and bouncing it back and forth.

Get in arguments about Bumblebee.

It’s crazy to think about how you just sit there and you put your all into it and it could stop there and then you’re stuck with all these questions of But I want to do this and this and this. But now you don’t own that material anymore.

It’s also if you go online you can find old versions of so many different screenplays you know ones that were sometimes drastically different as they went through different writers because then a different director comes on and they want their own writer or a different actor comes on.

Oh yeah.

And then they’re like Oh no no but my producing partner is going to do a rewrite. So it’s like it’s in some ways miraculous this stuff ever gets made when it goes through that many hands.

I kind of want to take. Wonder Woman and see all the scripts.


And have all made. And then watch them like one after another.

A billion dollars worth of Wonder Woman movies have been made. Well even the exorcist had exorcist the beginning which is like a prequel. And they shot it then they were so unhappy with it that they reshot the movie after it was already shot. Not not not not the script but the actual film. And then they go well this time we’ll double the budget. And we’ll keep we’ll fire every actor but one.

Oh wow.

Yeah and it didn’t work out for that version either. Luckily they had him.


And then they also had initially Michelle MacLaren to direct now. She directed Breaking Bad.


One of the great episodes of one of the greatest shows of all time also did. Game of Thrones a bunch other TV. She was ready to direct Wonder Woman. It was going to be her feature debut. Creative differences suddenly. She’s not on it anymore. Patty Jenkins steps in who directed the Charlize Theron film Monster which is incredible.

Oh my gosh. I didn’t know that.


I love monster.

And she was ready to rock. And luckily Patty Jenkins and Allan Heinberg got along swimmingly.

When Patty came on board the movie I’d only written the first half. She came on board at Page 60 because the way it was scheduled I had to turn in every 21 days I had to turn in another set of pages. I think it was four segments of 30 pages. So Michelle left the movie a page 60. Patty came on board the movie at page 60. So we were actually able to build the back half of the movie working very closely together off of that treatment I had written. So where there were places where Patty didn’t understand a scene or thought maybe we could go in this direction like we were on the phone or having meals together daily. We had a very close working relationship and then once that was done I went to London where they were prepping and we worked through the entire script together for a three week period and then when I left I didn’t get to see them because I was busy doing the catch but up until that point we were talking every day and emailing all day every day.

Must be crazy to work on a film with someone and become like family working so close every day. To then the show ends and you kinda got a little part of you missing but it sounds like they worked so closely together so they were able to share that same vision. That’s that’s pretty remarkable and that’s probably why it ended up being so awesome.

And she came in at page 60 during development like literally halfway through the development process of the script and just was able to jump in and that’s what they needed over at DC and Warner Brothers because they had their date and it’s like All right let’s find another director who can jump in ready to party and make this thing happen. And sometimes chemistry works. Sometimes you get just the right people together at the right time and out of that comes Wonder Woman which of course exceeded all their expectations. And I think also what helps Allan Heinberg’s own background. You know his view of women where he was not only like comfortable writing strong women but like in essence that to him was writing women.


He didn’t view it as like I have to write a woman who is this or this no. He worked with Shonda Rhimes he worked with Amy Sherman Paladino and even his own mother was an inspiration to him to make sure he really captured a strong female voice.

You might as well write what you know.

Luckily he knows the right people.

That’s all I do. That’s all I do. And again we have my mother probably to thank for that. She’s a very loud assertive presence. And you know it was the 70s and she was the sort of woman who would not tolerate sexism in any form. She went back to medical school at 30 after having sort of been talked out of it. You know earlier in her life and became a doctor summoning a strong woman’s voice has never been a problem for me perhaps romantically. Is that is a problem. I don’t know who can say but the other thing about this that I I did one interview where this hadn’t occurred to me but I will mention it like I’m a gay man and always have been. So I have never looked at a woman as a sexual object. I’ve never sexually desired or objectified a woman. And so it would never occur to me to write a woman from that point of view as a sexual object. And I’m very lucky in that every show I’ve ever worked on maybe it’s the symbiotic thing. It would only make sense to hire somebody like me because I write assertive women but I’ve never had to work on a show that didn’t have a really mouthy assertive female protagonist whose story it was you know and now I work for Shonda Rhimes and that’s all she does. I feel like I’ve been really lucky in that I don’t think I’ve written on any boy’s shows. So I’ve been really lucky. I have my mom’s voice in my head and and never having sexualized a woman in any way. Yeah I think it really has affected how I approach them. I don’t approach them any differently except that. And this is important. I know the world treats women differently. And so when I have a woman saying something or doing something I am always aware of the context and a world in which she’s operating. Does that make sense politically. I don’t want it to sound like I blithely like characters are characters and men and women are the same. They’re not they’re not the same the way the world treats them is not the same. And especially in Shondaland we never take that for granted.

I just want to start this out by saying thank you. Allan Heinberg I love when I watch something where there is a powerful strong woman dealing with something the strong woman who is powerful in her own right is something that you can’t get on every show that you watch and to be able to connect with that is so empowering.

I agree. You know I think a lot of his sort of training in Shondaland really prepped him and what’s great about Wonder Woman is. You can almost see the fingerprints of his TV work all over the final product of the film.

I can’t believe I got away with two scenes. One is the infirmary scene where Chris is naked.

Would you say you’re a typical example of your sex.

I am above average.

That is my Shondaland training coming right up because it was like Steve is naked in case you were wondering whether we want ladies to come to this movie and we do. But that’s what I do. Like that scene on the boat is the other one which is four and a half pages long. That’s just people talking. I don’t even get to do that on scandal like the scenes on Grey’s and the Shondaland shows. You can’t really get past a page or a page and a half so that infirmary scene is like two pages two and a half pages and then the boat scene. I cannot believe that is in a major motion picture. I cannot believe it. It’s a little shorter than I had them talking about Diana’s religious beliefs a little bit longer and Chris improv’ed one line that always gets a laugh where he says I’m not average. The whole average run from the like I got dick jokes and Wonder Woman it’s crazy it’s crazy. But then Chris does a callback. You know like it takes someone with vigor.

You know where I come where I come from I’m not considered average. You know. Being a spy you have to show a certain amount of vigor.

Like that was Chris like. So those are the scenes that I am like I still cannot believe they made that.

Maybe I’m being naive but I’m not surprised he was able to get away with those we’ll call them.


Scandalous jokes that’s a good word. We’re now Shonda Rhimes characters but I think it does take though that sort of perfect marriage of an experienced writer mixed with a super experienced comic book fan. You know super geek if you will. You need to be both in order to get away with those scenes.

Exactly. But this film did have at least one major critic James Cameron.

I’ve heard of that man.


He’s directed a couple of movies and made like a buck or two.

A buck or two.

Yeah. He directed Terminator 2 aliens and of course Avatar which is the highest grossing film of all time.

He’s known for creating such strong female characters which is why he might find Wonder Woman not so groundbreaking.

He was less of a fan than most we’ll just say.

I felt like what James was sort of taking issue with was all the attention that the movie was getting as a breakthrough because if you’re James Cameron and you made aliens and well Terminator and Aliens right and both Terminators Linda Hamilton is really the star of those two movies and then Sigourney Weaver is the star of aliens. I guess because they were written and directed by a man. It was less of an event at the time. I don’t know that it got as much press as a breakthrough for you know these huge big budget action movies with female heroines. I took that as the point. Like look guys I did this 20 years ago so don’t think you’re oh you know what you mean like it’s getting a lot of attention and they’re calling it a breakthrough. Well what about what I did because I did that and nobody’s talking about that right now. So that’s how I heard it. And honestly I’m so press shy. I’m so allergic to it that I read the headline and went I can’t I can’t know about it. I can’t get involved in it. I can’t. So I took his point to be. No I did that 20 25 years ago. Again we are not filmmakers who said this is our feminist manifesto. We made a Wonder Woman movie. Like we made the movie about a character who’s been around since 1944. We never went into the world touting our accomplishment. And you know to my knowledge I don’t think anybody involved with the movie is doing that. We’re just so stunned and grateful by and for the response. So yeah go James Cameron.


It’s like we caught up to Wonder Woman instead of the other way around. You know.

It’s just amazing to think that you know we sit here and we think about we don’t have any strong female empowering characters out there. And it’s been there since 1944 ready to tell the story and it’s the time for it. But she’s she’s been around.

For a long time and the TV show. You know I feel like we had to give a shout out.

That was what Lynda Carter.

Yes it was. And that show was fun. But yeah it took Hollywood a long time to catch up to this film. Well when Allan Heinberg was here speaking with our students. You know one thing that came to mind was a quote from the James L. Brooks movie Broadcast News is what do you do in your real life exceeds your dreams well that’s been happening to Allan Heinberg. He dreampt to Broadway and then he saw firsthand what it was like to be on Broadway dreampt of films. Also saw firsthand what it’s like to be on films.

Everything that he hoped for.

Yeah his dreams do come true.

I was very fortunate in that I had been working professionally since I was 10 and I graduated into an off Broadway show and was on Broadway shortly thereafter where I realized oh these people are miserable like I was at the height I was like in a Neil Simon show on Broadway working for Jerry acts with Nathan Lane and John Slattery it was an all star cast and they were miserable and the play wasn’t very good and Neil wasn’t happy and Jerry was happy and I just thought like. This is no one’s happy what’s going on. But again I was like I need to get my shows up I need to have my Off Broadway show I need to get on television I need to I need to matter I need to contribute I need to be successful and so I feel like a lot of the first part of my career and maybe you can identify with that because you’re at New York Film Academy and you want to be able to do your thing and have people pay you for it and have people watch it and like it and let you do more. And so I feel like I let a lot of great stuff go by being young and wanting to jump ahead and be established and successful whatever that means. And once I got to the place that I always wanted to go and this is cliché. Everybody talks about this. I got to Broadway and I was like oh everybody’s unhappy. And then I got to Hollywood and I’m like oh everybody’s miserable like everybody wants so much they want what they don’t have they hate that he got it and she didn’t and he did and it pulls at you you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people.

Well that’s the truth about Hollywood isn’t it. You’re looking at other people saying oh look at them they’re successful I got to do that. That’s what I got to do. I want to be them. I want what they have without sticking to your truth.

Right. It’s a one man race. I think sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. People go oh you’re pushing aside other people for work but the truth is if you create things in that regard it’s just you versus you.

Which is a better place to be.

Right right right right. You don’t have to worry about the horse next to you.


And I think the best lesson Allan Heinberg got from his his experience is that he put himself in the best position to be happy and that is when the work came to him and only then was he able to do his best.

I had a turning point I did a show called looking for HBO. Michael Landon created that show with Andrew Haig and it was a tough one. It was a really tough one for me. And after one season I left and after having been out of Shondaland for about three or four years at that point to develop shows and like I was doing the Amazon pilot I said to my agent you know what. I give up I give up trying to have my own show. I give up wanting to have a huge superhero movie. I don’t think I’m ever going to have any of that and I don’t care. All I want to do is go back and work with people I love and care about and I don’t care anymore. And I said I’m over it I’m over trying to strive I’m over it trying to get my name out there having a brand. So the turning point was being old enough to know oh there’s really no there there. There’s no level of accomplishment where you are happy or you know recognized and suddenly it’s awesome and you’re awesome and you can you know date whoever you want or whatever it is like first you’re insulted because it’s like well nobody’s thinking about me and then you’re like oh this is so liberating nobody’s thinking about me. It’s awesome. So I said to Larry let’s just look for a great fun project with people who are nice and then he said you know your friend Pete Nowak is leaving scandal to go into how to get away with murder. Why don’t you sit in his chair at scandal. And I was like Oh that sounds perfect. And two days later I was sitting in Pete’s chair who’s my best friend. At scandal. And I spent the next year loving just being one of Shonda’s army just seeing my friends every day. And I’ve been working you know the same people from Grey’s. So it’s been 10 years I’ve been with these people and then wonder woman happened and I said no to Zach. I said no I choose scandal. I didn’t pursue it. I didn’t want it. I tried to quit it. I was really content not just in a fake way in a real way because I’d been so beaten up by the development process and by what had happened on looking and I was just tired of it. I was tired of trying to achieve and succeed in that traditional sense. I just wanted to do good work with my friends. So if there’s a lesson. It’s giving up you know what I mean like the lesson is about passion and about craft and not about having people know my name. And look I’m not an egomaniac really I mean I have that part of me that would love for people to know my name and stuff but like bad shit happens when people know your name like they come after you and they all want. It’s not great. And if what you are concerned with is your name being out there and what people are saying about you and doing you’re not going get any work done you’re just not. So by giving up the dream of what traditional success looks like I got my name on Wonder Woman. That is how that happened. I’m not telling you not to strive. Shonda hates the word dream. She hates it. Like follow your dreams. And she’s right. She’s like don’t sit around dreaming don’t follow lead and do. And that’s what I’m telling you to do too but make it about your craft and make it about working with people you love on projects you love don’t think about the end result.

Listen Eric just give up.

Yeah. Yeah. This is the most positive message from everything he said give up. Well it’s funny too it’s like.

Give up.


The need to be liked. The need to be a rock star.

The need to be first.

The need to be first and start doing what you love to do and surround yourself with good people.

Yeah. So it’s kind of like stop dreaming and start doing great or don’t dream it Be it. Go go work.

Go work just do.

And it’s okay. Like if it’s not the greatest title because you keep working and better work finds you at some point which definitely happened with him.

Well we want to thank Allan Heinberg for speaking with our students and we want to thank all of you for listening. She is Aerial Segard.

And he is Eric Conner.

And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Phil Kauffman to watch this interview for our other Q&As. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy.

This episode was written by Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and Eric Conner.

Executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the entire staff and crew who made this possible.

To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on the podcast or wherever you listen. See you next time.

Thank you Christine thanks. Christian.

Hi! I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you an actress who went from Israeli television to playing several iconic roles in Hollywood. Ayelet Zurer.

Today you guys have so much power to not wait for a casting director to go into a video store and pick up a movie from Israel. You actually have way more control. Your creativity that’s all you need. Just make sure it’s out there.

His name. Is Kal son of El

I know you’re a dangerous man. That’s why I brought a gun. To a dinner date.

You’re not going to offer to buy every painting in here so I can close up early. A guy actually tried that once.

I am guilty of all I have confessed to. However, I do not believe they constituted any wrongdoing.

I want to believe that evil will be punished.

She’s portrayed the mother of Superman and Ben-Hur. The wife of the villainous kingpin on Netflix’s Daredevil and has acted for no less than Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg. You can also see her in Netflix’s Shtisel the surprise international hit. That feels like if the show This Is Us was set in an Israeli Orthodox neighborhood. But before all that her career got two unexpected boosts. In one case by not having to audition and the other by being so good in a not so good film.

I got a break. By entering theater school not auditioning. Which was really up my alley. Because that factor was not something I could handle. And so I studied for three years and I totally fell in love with it. I did a commercial and the guy who had the schools came by because he was also doing casting and he said listen you got to come to the school I mean you don’t have to audition just come and study and I was like OK. And so I started doing theater and did some Shakespeare and. Off Off Broadway and then got a really great job back home in Israel I thought OK. Do Off-Off Broadway for seven bucks and walk dogs in New York or be on a one of the greatest shows on television in my own country in my own language and I went back home and stayed there for a very long time with a really beautiful career. Movies and TV and theater one of the things I’ve done was in treatment you should watch out because it’s really great for writing and acting because it’s two people in one room talking so you can imagine 30 pages every week to learn by heart. That was outstanding and we all thought nobody’s gonna watch that nobody’s gonna watch two people in the room talking to each other and each day is a different patient going to a shrink and then you know I had I had my child and I thought OK great. This is my life this is my career it’s not going to go more than that or less than that it’s great. I was happy and I got a call from a casting director saying you should come and read for a director that I can’t tell you his name for a movie that I can tell you what the name of the movie is very alluring. And she said how why don’t you come and read and I said there’s no way my brain is not working I’m learning 30 pages a week I have a baby. No way. And she said well maybe I’ll give you a hint. And then she said Steven Spielberg. So I was like All right let me me organize some. And I auditioned. Apparently, there was only two actresses he read for these roles. And I got the part. And then the door kind of opened for me to do an international work. And this is the lesson for all of you if you’re acting or anything really in life just say yes to things you know I’ve done a very mediocre movie and the actors were OK. Everything was just fine. Apparently, my role was somehow shining through and it wasn’t even in treatment where you know I was awarded for that or Nina’s tragedies. You know again an award it was just that tiny movie that somehow got to England to a video store that shows how old I am and and the casting director went to look for an Israeli actress and she found that video and she put that in. And I was shining because the whole thing was kind of eh. But I was shining apparently and so that was good for me. And that’s what they saw.

Her TV show in treatment known by its Hebrew name B’Tepul is like homeland a show that started in Israel and then was adapted for an American audience. Her show Shtisel is also currently getting an American makeover. And similarly, Ayelet Zurer herself jumped back and forth from Israeli productions to Hollywood. Sometimes she’s working on massive blockbusters and other times she’s looking for work.

I feel choosing to come here killed for me the love for theater for sure because I could live in New York maybe do that. But in L.A. less. Then on top of that. I am not a person that is easy on leaving the family behind and going to you know a different city to have a great career while my husband and my child are somewhere that was not so television was off. The table for a very long time for me and only starting to become something that I’m OK with. Because it does take you away for a very long time and the contracts that you have you’ll see if you’re fortunate enough they are sometimes draconian you know you can sign up for like seven years. You know it’s like Hey take my kidney. You know. You know it’s crazy I think I think from from like the roles aspect I was able to sort of do many things. The big ones sort of land in the same place but the small things less familiar things are different. The Garcias different and Milada is very different and also the work I’ve done in Israel is very different. So. If I’m lucky enough there’s some years that are great and some years I go OK I’ll have to take what I you know and some years you can actually choose a career the things that are different.

Even if her career has had its ups and downs. Mr Zurer’s approach to auditioning remains consistent.

If I prepare for an addition I prepare as much as I can. The thing is for you guys things have changed dramatically because when I started you used to go into a room with a director. And actually bothered sitting with you and telling you what to do. Now they’re getting tapes. And tapes are being sent all over the world. So sometimes you’ll go to a casting director and that’s great. And sometimes you have to self-tape. So you have to find someone who you are comfortable working with that can get you to the best performance you can have on your tape. You know the good news is that you don’t have so much anxiety walking into a room and having to perform in one or two takes you can do 10 20 and then choose the one that you like right. The other side of this is that you don’t have director to tell you actually I’m looking for something else. Can you do this for me. So again because your responsibility has grown since everything changed. You better expand. You better try this try that and see what works for you and look at the tape and ask yourself what is real. What’s the more natural. Where do I not tried so hard.

Each role requires its own level of preparation. None more so than when she’s trying to capture the essence of a character from another time or another place.

It’s different from each and every role but I’ll choose one because this was for me the hardest one. That was Milada. It’s a. Very long historical story about a woman who actually lived. Around World War 2. I had to study an accent for that I had to study one hundred and twenty pages cause most of the movie I’m in. And I had to find who she was. And why am I telling. So I usually start with the lines. I dig in I dig and dig in and I study them by heart. And then I do the most technical work which is how I sound. If I need a speech coach then I’ll go to her or him and I worked with them and through that voice the placement of the voice I’ll discover a lot of things and make decisions. I usually go from scene to scene and ask myself what this is about. You know what’s the character’s aiming at what is she not seeing. What she thinks she’s going for. But actually it’s not happening I ask all the questions that I can ask about that specific situation and I usually try to find the way in for myself into that world. I mean how do you play a scene where you say goodbye to your family and you never see them again.

I still remember the day you were born. Mother was so sick that father had to run. And get a doctor. Then he placed two in my arms. When I held you you were my first daughter. So much has changed. And now. I’m so sorry. I will never be able to repay you. When you think of me. Know that I am always always with you.

What drives this person. Why do they do that. How can you be so driven to do something like that. So you have to go into history and say OK. I live in a period where I can look at my phone and buy an Amazon dress and not even wear it. But these people actually saw the world in a different way and perceived relationship in a different way. So I have to go back to that. So wherever you go there’s so much to learn and to dig deep that I think for me this is what’s interesting because human nature is endless. It’s like an endless labyrinth. You know you just go down one end and into another and keep asking questions then you get the set and everything you learned and thought you got you got to drop or you’re in trouble because you’ve got to work with the other person and what they give you and hopefully they give you something good and if it is good. Then you really have to trust everything that you have already within you and just be in the moment.

And another thing that helps being in the moment is of course knowing your lines which Missouri explains is far easier for some projects than others.

I discovered that when it’s well-written it’s really easy to learn. It’s almost like one of the ways for me to understand if the material is good. So if something is not working something is not right. Or I’m not getting to the essence of it or. But usually it’s just not right when the material is really really good. You kind of subconsciously. Get it. And then you practice like you practice a song or the guitar just do it again and then you do it again. I find it really helpful to get a friend. Run the lines take a walk. Then come back run the lines again and realize that you know it and then before I go to bed I do the lines and when I wake up I do the lines again because the mind our brain has a very beautiful ability to learn something then stack it somewhere. So when you let it sit. And you don’t panic and run it again and again and again and again endlessly you work for an hour or two hours and then you leave it. And you come back to that. Thing in the evening and then the next morning you’ll know it. Usually. For me. And friends. I sometimes have to pay people to work with me because it’s so boring. You know. I have to I like would you come help me I’ll pay you 10 bucks 15. And so sometimes that’s the way it works because. I learn lines really well when I hear the other person say the line and I understand why I’m saying the lines to him why I’m saying what I’m saying. You know for me that’s how it works.

Ms Zurer explained that she needs to remain focused and present on set. Otherwise she might remember she actually gets stage fright.

One of the things I’ve learned is to be very present because that’s the number one most important absolutely most important thing for an actor. Between the action and the cut so in those moments I was able to eliminate everything that’s out there. The sound the fear the self-doubt the guy who didn’t treat me well you know anything really. The lights. The audience. You know all that stuff. I am not great and talking in front of people. I get better with age but I was really shy. You know if I didn’t have a mask I was not able to have a conversation on a stage with people. There’s no way. So that’s one thing that I’ve learned. And then the other thing is to tell a story what’s the beginning where I’m coming. What do I want to say what the story wants to say. What’s my job in that story. What is my role. What kind of like device am I. And then pull that device and say I’m the one who’s like because of this. It has to be this you know. And once I was able to specify my job in the piece I was having less and less ego about it and questions about it I could just go in and in and in hone in on what it is.

Despite her love of the theater Ms Zurer like many actors still gets nervous in front of crowds which is surprising considering what kind of material she’s performed.

For like two years I ran with vagina monologues. It’s. It used to be shocking 10 years ago. You know. Oh my God. She says. She says vagina you know but it was really about feminism and womanhood and all that stuff. This show ran for three years and I had monologues there were tears every night and laughter every night. I had to find what works for me on a regular basis. This was hard work. This was not just like Oh the camera’s on and let’s just pretend to be and then tomorrow something completely different was really. So that brings something very specific to your professional life I think. And also just the ability to go in and in and in and look for something new and new and new and something else and ask yourself is that it. Is that all I have. Maybe there’s something else. Let’s go in and in deeper and deeper and not be afraid to say dropping this I’m going into a different direction you know because sometimes I feel like as human beings if we find something that makes us happy what people say to you Oh that’s really good. You want to keep doing that same thing just because you’re loved because we all wants to be you want. We want to be loved.

Ayelet Zurer performed in the Vagina Monologues because well she was drawn to the challenging material but other times she has chosen projects based solely on who’s attached. So when certain directors like I don’t know Steven Spielberg ask her to be in a project. She said yes.

Well I said yes to Steven before even reading obviously I had to fly to London to read the script. They didn’t even send it to me. They were so you know and I said yes to Zack Snyder because I wanted to work with him and I thought oh wow Superman’s mom that’s kind of cool. I mean how bad can it be but the material is what I respond to. And it’s also my responsibility really because I read the thing and I know what to do with it or I don’t. And if I don’t know what to do with it I should probably meet with the director and tell them I don’t know what to do with it. If you want we could try. But I mean I can come out of a room and say This one is not for me. And sometimes I go out of a room and say they’re stupid if they don’t take me and they don’t. So you know life is very weird that way you get surprised many times people approach you and say this is for you like Milada a director called me from a guy I never met before said Hey do you want to play this hero. She’s Czech. You’ll have to play English because it’s for Netflix but with a Czech accent and I’m thinking why me of all people why did you get to me. You know. And then I thought maybe because my mom’s Czechoslovakian so he knew. So I met with him. I read the script and it was not good. And I said to him you know I think you need work. You know it’s not ready. And he said No no I know and please help me and we actually worked on it and then I became a producer on it just to it was a whole thing. But I learned from it. But you know he was a first time director I could not I didn’t see his work. He didn’t have any work. He didn’t even have a short I mean he had like other things to show. I had to trust my guts and say this role is actually interesting for me it’s not well written but I feel like I can do something with it and so I went for it and you know so it depends. You’ve got to listen to your gut but gut knows.

Ms Zurer got to see up close. What makes Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg.

The directors who are phenomenal give you space. They give you space but in the right time they’ll always come to you and help you try something else or advise you with a different approach. I remember in Munich the first scene Steven said this this and this and then also she’s not crier she’s not like a woman nagging and I was like Oh I didn’t think about that.

I tried not to think about you but I couldn’t.

I have the world’s most boring job. What’s going to happen to me.

Well they were just athletes. They went to the Olympics look what happened to them. What now.

Now we’re going to have a baby.

She’s actually you know just a person who puts a mirror to his face. She’s not like oh don’t go. You know that kind of. Because he said he doesn’t like that. He doesn’t. He has that kind of a wife at home and he likes to portray beautiful strong women you know. So I was like OK. That’s great. When a director doesn’t give you what you want. They usually it’s their own anxiety that you need to be able to block yourself from. If they don’t really know what they want or they’re trying to manipulate you in a certain way. I think the best way to go is just go with the flow give them what they want and always know what is the thing that you feel was right for you where you felt the role you felt the truth of it. Sometimes it’s also hard to find the truth. You know there’s. I remember I’ve done Ben Hur and The director came to me and said which take did you like and I said number three and he said no four. I was like really. Why is that because three you were in control. And I said really what happened in four and he said in four you got confused or something happened I don’t know but it was so real that I really liked it. So but he was really supportive to give safe space for your actor is the best possible way to work.

It might not come as a surprise but she loved working with Ron Howard and Tom Hanks on angels and demons. But the pressure of actually getting that role made the audition a little more stressful than most.

The day of that audition you can imagine how stressful this is. I used to walk on the beach and repeatedly say my lines because that’s kind of how I let it sink and sink and sink and sink become really really automatic. I don’t need to think about it so I can see and everything else that’s happening. Then a little seal baby seal was on the beach strangled. Poor thing was almost dying because there was a whole thing you know I did not work. You know the lines were not studied and we called the wildlife and then they came and I went to the theater and they asked me So how was your day. And I told him I saved a seal. So they noticed me you know. I didn’t do that. I didn’t save the seal to you know tell a story but maybe in the back of my mind I kind of did. But we saved the seal and then I went off to a small theater in Santa Monica and the first thing I stumble upon was Tom Hanks and he’s a very tall man very like really charming and very charismatic it was like Hello Mr. Hanks and yes please you know. And we read together and I don’t know what happened but it was really magical. I was not nervous. And. So again there was a struggle apparently. Some people chose me some didn’t. And eventually the people will chose me won and that’s how it goes you know. And of course the shoot was incredible because working with Tom was really something I’ve learned a lot from him. If he has an idea he will save it for the last last minute before the cameras rolling and he will say to the director Hey I thought he wouldn’t like me come in the morning. Knock knock knock. Can I talk to you. You know. No. That’s because the director what I learned has so much on his mind that the last thing he wants is an actress with a great idea. No no no it’s a terrible thing and you know sometimes you in your own space you think oh your little decision or your little creativity is the most important thing it’s not you know. So I learned that from him. That was shocking to me that you have to have patience because patience is not something I have at all. So I used to look at him with awe like the way he would just right in the right place. It was like pretty incredible. And he’s also intelligence his choices are intelligent he’s so funny wise and generous. You know he’s a very he’s a leader you know. So he kind of sets the tone and it’s really interesting to see that if you have a leader the person who sets the tone at the top of the pyramid is how this pyramid is operating. So you want to have solid people around you you know because I have other experiences where it wasn’t that way. And it’s always from the top of the pyramid person there. You know it trickles down and it trickles down light for sure.

Ms Zurer’s journey as an actress brought her to another geektactic adaptation. The Netflix series Daredevil. As the wife of famed Marvel baddie kingpin. She needed to find the humanity in a less than humane character.

The first season she’s a gallery owner who stumbles upon this man who came to buy a painting and it so happens that this painting is called a rabbit in a snowstorm. That represents pretty much the emptiness of both their lives.

People always ask me how can we charge so much what amounts to gradations of white. I tell them it’s not about the artist’s name or. The. Skill required. Not even about the art itself. All. That matters is.

She asks him how does he make him feel to see that painting. And he says lonely.

It makes me feel alone.

And. They fall in love. So when I got this I’m not a genre person. It’s really strange because I’ve done man of steel and you know Superman stuff. But it’s not my thing. I mean I grew up on on European movies with you know small stories and phenomenal photography and definitely no action but I looked at the illustrations the very very old daredevil and I saw where she ends up she ends up in a very very dark place and this is the beginning. So I thought to myself this is kind of like Lady Macbeth where does she start. You know she doesn’t start in the dark place. You know something happened. So for me that’s kind of the journey I took I said we started in the very full of light plays naive happy. I think that’s why he falls in love also. Cause he sees the outside of that. And then. But they both kind of attract each other from the emptiness the void.

In TV a show can go through a number of changes behind the scenes that can completely change the creative direction of the show. So in Daredevil Season 2 Ms Zurer was nowhere to be seen but when she returned to season 3 she actually used this chaos behind the scenes to help fuel her performance.

So what happened with Daredevil is that they had a show runner on the first season and then he got a great job that he wanted to do and he left and they got a different showrunner who wrote something completely different. And then another show runner who I love Eric who wrote that specific season. So. In that time I was actually doing some other things not even thinking about the show. You know I’ve done one season. I was not called for the second one because there was you know I wasn’t in the storyline and then they approached me for the third. So I can’t say anything about the middle part but the third part coming back to the character and trying to create something new with Vince that makes sense and still moves slightly forward for me as a character and what he’s gone through. Was what I was looking for. And so when I met with Eric he said what happened to her where where do you think she’s at. And I gave him some answers you know where from my imagination. He liked it. It was kind of combined into that world. So. When I came back I came back really heavy. You know it’s very strange you know when you have a role that you played in one period of your life then you took some time off. Things happen in life. A lot of things happened to me in those year and a half or so. So a lot of stuff personal stuff you know I was ready to come back and do something else with the same role. So I just brought in you know the weight of being away of questioning and being alone of coming back to a city. You don’t really know what you expect from you know I’ve made I made it personal in a way that’s personal but not because I didn’t come back to the city I don’t like you know like L.A.. But I do hate New York you know. So I sort of used that energy of coming back to the city and into that world and then coming back to Vince who’s a friend of mine by now you know and we work really well together. We don’t need to do much. It’s like I know what he’s doing and what he’s thinking you know. So actually to try to push him away from our friendship was that that was the struggle. You know how to stay cold and reserved and.

Even as daredevil went through multiple show runners. One thing unfortunately remained the same. A lack of diversity behind the camera.

I think sometimes in order to make a change you have to take three steps forward to go back to one step where it kind of you need to be. And so that happened or happening with diversity. A lot of roles are being divided now. Lots of roles that I used to get. Now they’re saying no you’re white I’m like but I’m right for the role. But no you know. So that should happen. You know that’s it’s long due I think. And with women women writers women directors because I mean I don’t think a man can play a woman. So that’s not a problem here. So we’re talking like those very specific jobs right. You can criticize someone because they’re weak or because you don’t like them or because they’re women. These are just words just words. Sometimes it’s envy sometimes it’s just fear. The truth of the matter is that yes I never worked with a female director ever. I’ve been an actress for no once in vagina monologue. I mean can you imagine with a man. Come on. But yeah on movies on television. No. So obviously it’s time. And yes it’s going to take some jobs from men. But what can you do. I mean I love men. I worked with great men. I love women. I think it’s just it’s not fair it’s not balanced. I mean a woman can direct a daredevil. There was no woman on that set.

Ayelet Zurer’s career has taken her all over the world. She’s been part of amazing projects like Munich in part of projects and might have been less than perfect. And through it all she’s made sure never to lose sight of what matters most.

You got to do what he got to do you have to find the balance in life. I feel like that’s the struggle really. I mean most of you are really young and it doesn’t get any better now. It just doesn’t. It just changes. You have to find balance all the time. If your girlfriend is wanting to go to a movie but you have to learn your lines you gotta find the balance because she might drop you you know. But you got to learn the lines because that. So you have to find you know the voice in yourself saying okay what do I do to create a positive life experience where I do what I have to do for myself and for my life and to advance but still have a life you know. So that thing and how do you keep yourself sane in a very competitive reality where you know people who were in school with you now are getting this amazing role and Jeremy Renner who was in this tiny little movie is nominated for the Oscars. You know it’s great for him. Then your turn will come. It’s all about balance and keeping yourself sane and loved and creative.

I have to say that is great advice for everyone. Actor or not we want to thank Ayelet Zurer for entertaining audiences all around the world and for chatting with our students here in Los Angeles. And thanks of course to all of you for listening. She’s got a ton of work over on Netflix whether you prefer to see her in a superhero show a drama set in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel or in a political drama like Milada. Definitely check it out. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube dot com slash New York Film Academy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Creative Director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYU if they eat you be sure to subscribe an Apple podcast or wherever you listen. You next on.


Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you a performer who would have given James Brown a run for his money as the hardest working man in show biz: the incomparable Cedric the Entertainer.

I decided not to be famous and do a famous thing. I just went in and auditioned and I got the role. For that reason but I felt like that attitude led me to being creative in the moment you know taking the character and doing a little something different.

In my day the barber was a counselor fashion expert style coach pimp just general around hustler.

Ever since Tiger Woods won a couple of years ago we out there trying to play I’m out there. There be a lot of black people at the golf course now. I call it. The. Post Tiger renaissance.

A dandelion I thought the frost wiped them all out.

All but one.

This. Is the barbershop. The place where a black man means something cornerstone of the neighborhood.

His film and TV credits – they’re only about 20 years old and yet during that time he’s racked up over 70 credits everything from barber shop to playing a lemur in Madagascar. He helped create the show soulman and he is currently executive producing and starring in the CBS show neighborhood. It’s all pretty far climb up from the St. Louis standup team where he began.

I’m from St. Louis as I started in St. Louis as a standup and of course during that time that was really how most of the guys came in to television and film. You started by being a standup if you weren’t a you know a dedicated straight up actor and you know most of the people from Jamie Foxx to the Wayans brothers. Martin Lawrence all these guys were. Standups first and then they became TV stars and film stars. Eddie Murphy you know so. So that was something that I really wanted to do so I started in St. Louis doing stand up and then I came out to L.A. in 94 when I became the host of BET’s Comic View which was a standup show but it put me on TV every day. Standup is just one of those things. People you watch. You kind of understand what the rhythm is. You have to start small and stand up you can you know even if you’re new all you’re going to get is five minutes on stage anyway. Like you you’re not. You have to be extremely special right away for you to get more time. It’s just the way the business is designed.

Five minutes might not seem like that much time but if you’ve ever actually gone to a standup show and there’s a bad comic five minutes is forever. Well obviously Cedric the Entertainer figured out how to do a great five minutes and in fact his famous moniker actually came from this time in the standup scene not out of any sort of false bravado simply because he just didn’t have enough jokes to fill the headliner timeslot he so desperately wanted.

I don’t know a lot of people know this story but my name came because when I started doing standup I got popular really quickly I was kind of telling the story of how stand-ups get paid in time. So when you’re a new guy you would what they call the M.C.. You do five to eight minutes you get paid three hundred dollars to do eight shows right. You get three hundred then you move up to the middle and you do 25 to 30 minutes and you get paid 600 to 800 and then you become the headliner and that’s the headliner is a thousand to whatever you command. Once you the last dude. And so early on because I used to work I worked at state farm I was a claims adjuster I had a corporate job when I started doing comedy I wanted the money to equal what it was that I got paid. So I needed at least six hundred dollars. So once I became known in St. Louis and people would want me to come do shows. I would tell them I can do 30 minutes but I didn’t. I only had five minutes worth of jokes so I would sing I would do a poem I’d play a record I’d do a whole dance routine I’m gonna fill up this 30 minutes. So what happened was a guy kept introducing comedians as the next comedian. He’s like and this next comedian coming up. And so he did that and me really paying reverence to comedians and loving them. I was like Don’t call me a comedian because I don’t have enough jokes I’ll say Call me an entertainer. So he said this next guy is an entertainer. Cedric the Entertainer. And then I went up and I had a killer show and when I got off he said Cedric the Entertainer y’all. And I was like that’s the name I just kept. And that was it.

The funny thing is normally if someone just calls themselves an entertainer you think they’re just being ridiculous or they’re overdoing it but not him because he would do all these different things onstage because that’s who he is. And that’s actually his advice to others looking to do standup. Be true to yourself. Provided of course yourself can handle the fact that early standup gigs are not always going to go as planned.

The real thing about standup is individuality man. Like I mean it comes from the experiences that you have. The way that you see life the way that you can word something and think about the phrasing and really try to take that that spirit that truth on stage that’s the best thing that works is the you know you can be funny. But people like people that they believe this happened to them or the way that they tell the story and you know you can get the angst of being on stage. So that’s another thing breathe you know try to relax you know just try to relax into a one go from one joke to the next. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself when something didn’t go well that’s when you have to just kind of remain in the pocket just you got a set in your head you know that would be my first you know. Make sure you write a set like start with this is my first joke. This my second joke is going to be my third joke. This is what I plan on ending with If something happens in the middle. You know something happens in the room I could change. I might do that but at least you have your head. What was gonna be your plan of attack. And so if something throws you off you can go like alright Cool. Let me get back to the things that I was gonna say but it’s all about really kind of being true to yourself in the moment and trying to let that come out and that’s what people will enjoy the most. That’s what you enjoy about all your favorite stand ups is that they just uniquely them you like that’s funny that dude just. He just cracked me up because the way he see it.

So for years crowds loved watching Cedric and seeing how he reacted to the world. He did his time and eventually that got him noticed Cedric or maybe I should call him Mr. the entertainer eventually got tagged to join the original Kings of Comedy tour. And that tour featured a TV personality which then helped launch Cedric’s acting career. Mr Family Feud himself. Steve Harvey.

He hails. From St Louis Missouri put your hands together for my motherf**king friend. Cedric the Entertainer.

What’s up. A lot of them space movies out white people like space movies black people don’t really do space like that. White people love space movies they love movies about the moon and Mars where they can be leaving our ass down here on earth. That’s what they think they think they gonna leave us down here on Earth. They gonna move to the moon. Ain’t gonna happen. Y’all move to the moon Damn it. We coming to the moon. We’ll be right behind y’all in space shuttles with Cadillac grills n*** just. They could just rolling one headlight out. Tags be all wrong. All bass.

My first real opportunity to play a character was on the Steve Harvey Show. In my mind. It was just like two months ago or whatever. People like man I was a baby. Thanks a lot. I feel young you know but I do think that being with another standup Steve was a good friend of mine. We were friends. We just came into the environment in a real comfortable way and it made it easy to kind of transition from just being known as a standup to acting every day on a sitcom. I was with somebody that I trusted. We were partners we trusted each other and the director Stan Lathan. He did all the Def Comedy Jams. So he was with us and then he directed every Steve Harvey Show. So again I just kind of walked into a really good environment for you know to be able to have a learning curve. To you know if you if you do some wrong. They like hey man you know turn around. You can’t say your line to the wall. Like you right you right.

Cedric’s first experience in front of the camera was perfect for him. Working with Steve Harvey working with a director he knew and appreciated but he also admits that during the early part of his career he did not really appreciate the magnitude of just what a director did and how important a great director was to the success of a project.

One thing I had to learn that the director is also talent because when you’re hired as an actor you kind of believe that it’s all about you but you realize that a talented director is also talent like they are. They’re there to do something very specific and they’re trying to find something very specific so that it can be on the screen. It’s kind of easy to put them on the technical side because they’re behind the camera and you know you would see actors be very temperamental would directors you don’t know what I do. I’m got I’ve got to get here. So for the most part I would say the best thing about a director is to really have a vision of what it is that they’re trying to do and then have the kind of it’s this thing of of being in charge in charge of the situation but also knowing that you do have to let an actor find it like they have to. It’s not automatic but if you have a vision and a direction it’s easy for you to you know hopefully you know some directors are not really good with actors they just really great technical people but you know it’s to be able to explain to that actor what it is that you need. That’s usually the best relationship. You know I’ve done movies where an actor just ran over the director and then you see the movie fall apart like he’s at that point that you start to go like Yo you really have to know you to Captain of the ship and it’s a hard thing to do when you’re dealing with egos of like big time stars. But as that person that’s shooting the film that’s got to get it on you to Captain. You just got to take that and that’s going to be best.

Fortunately the captain for barbershop was Tim Story who was young but knew what he wanted. And barbershop turned out to be a significant turning point in Cedric’s career. He had a chance to actually go after more audience friendly crowd pleaser one that would have made him probably a lot more money. But he went with the smaller more personal role.

Barbershop at that time it was interesting they hadn’t they had actually been casting like these comedies about our culture like very specific culture stuff you know and you know usually it’s some kind of family based movie. But this was about something that was inside the culture that was very specific to what we how we experience going to the Barbershop. It was interesting though because at that time it was at MGM and Like Mike was was getting ready to be shot and I could have I had a choice. So as an actor they was like Oh you want to do like Mike which is going to pay you more money it’s going to be this big studio movie. And then there was barber shop and you know I just instinctively knew from being a stand that this particular movie was going to be better suited for what I wanted to do and what how I wanted to be in movies. And so I chose the lesser money for the greater film. That’s what I would say.

I think it’s fair to say that Cedric the Entertainer chose wisely. Barbershop turned out to be a surprise hit with its personal tales of an African-American corner barbershop resonating with people from all backgrounds. It’s actually something I stress writing instructor the more personal and more lived in your story is ironically the more universal it becomes.

As unique as you may feel right now your story will resonate with so many people so try to find something that tells that story really cleanly you’ll be surprised that your audience will be a lot bigger for different reasons. I mean a lot like you know the barbershop which we thought was very specific to the black barbershop. Once we start telling the story people go Oh that’s like my blah-di-blah. So other cultures the reason why the movie did well is that you have to figure out how do you cross over. Well we didn’t think about it like that. We were telling a very specific story and it crossed over because other cultures started going oh you know their barbershop is like our when we go to the you know the pizza shop or whatever we do. People recognize like this is where you get to be yourself. You can say whatever it is that you want to say. And so people start to identify with the movie from that. That’s what I think as an artist you have something that you know you feel like you want to say inside out trust that and believe that that message will lead you to even bigger and greater message but start with the one pure in your heart and the one that you feel like you you want to say say it.

It’s exactly why my big fat Greek wedding is still one of the biggest comedies ever made. That story’s so specific and so personal. That everyone can relate to it. Cedric the entertainer gets this too because he was a stand up comic for years which is always about connecting with your audience. Knowing your voice. So when he acts in a movie he’s always at the ready. He can improv. He can tell jokes he can change lines but he respects the screenplay. He doesn’t mind cutting loose but only if the director lets him.

In movies. There’s usually a flexibility of course I start out doing the script it’s only when a director usually you’re saying interpret it like in barber shop in barber shop because I was so uniquely had that character in my head. The director knew that I could do the words and then he was like alright do the words and then be Eddie. That’s what he would just say like he would go do the script because you know again the studio paid for the script. The people who put the money up want this script. That’s what they think they bought it so you can’t necessarily. You don’t have the freedom to just freestyle unless they trust you. And so in that particular movie the way I you know kind of crafted the character they just trusted what I wanted to do and so I freestyle a lot. In the end I did my version one of the in that movie was the big Rosa Parks Martin Luther King thing right.

What I’m saying is that black people need to stop lying. There are three things that black people need to tell the truth about. One one Rodney King should have got his ass beat for driving drunk and being pulled over in a Hyundai. Two OJ did it and three Rosa Parks ain’t do nothing but sit her black ass down. That’s right I said it. I said it.

You know you wrong keep on walking. You wrong. You walking by yourself this time. I ain’t with you. I’ll tell you one thing. You better not never let Jesse Jackson hear you talking like that.

Man. F**k Jesse Jackson.

Super controversial like I mean even on the set the producers people was mad. People were walking away. I mean it was like serious like it was. There was a guy that like kind of worked to get me on the movie couldn’t even believe I was gonna say it. I say it’s in the script. But the way it was written in the script it had a malice to it. So what I did was try to take what he was saying and internalize it as Eddie. So I could say the same thing but not in the same way. So that’s what I did. So when the NAACP and I mean they came at me they came at me like I mean like like it’s weird like when people want to like like Jesse Jackson called me at my house and. Rosa Parks family sent me a letter scathing letter. I was like whoa I said it’s serious right here boy I’m in trouble with the ancestor’s right now man. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this. The ancestors. But I had created a Truth in the character that I believed was his truth Eddie. And that’s what he was saying because that’s what Eddie believed in the barbershop. So I had all these things like this the barbershop man like we people say absurd things and then some people believe things to be true but I don’t disrespect the screenwriter like that’s one of the reasons why you decide to do a project in the first place is that you’ve got to look at the writing and see it’s something you want to be a part of. And that is how most actors make their choice because they’re just paint they’re the actor they’re there to to make your words real. I had to learn that more so in my run on Broadway because as a comedian I became very used to freestyle and then doing my own thing. But when you do playwrights for sure you can’t change nothing like screenwriters. You get a little bit more leeway but playwrights no words no change no extra. None of that. And I was surprised because I thought they were hiring me to to do me like and they were like No no no. You doing this. Alright.

Barbershop did help show the range of Cedric the Entertainer’s talents he could have treated the role like a series of jokes and I’m sure it would’ve been funny but he did more that. He went deeper with it and he came at it not just as a comic but really as an actor.

For a comedian once you start acting you get the drive to be considered serious and you know it’s something that just happens naturally once people start putting you in movies and then all of a sudden you have this desire for people to go like you know you really can act. You know you need that. And so it usually comes with dramas. Even then you know I thought about Bridesmaids or hangover. None of the great comedies coming to america they never get nominated or the actors get recognized for what they did. And these are big movies and they came into your life in a big way and you go like well why the hangover wasn’t nominated. Why wasn’t bridesmaids nominated these are the funniest movies this year. They was comedians. And so you go like Well I want an award you know I don’t you know it’s cool. That comedy is cool. But you know I got a tux I’m trying to. But to those opportunities we look for them. You know I try to look for them. I mainly look for small roles that I get to be with really great actors. And so I try to look for those things in this particular movie Barbershop. This was one of my favorite stories about myself and I feel the movie was was already being shot and. When I first got cast they didn’t know that I wanted to be the old man. Everybody thought I was supposed to Antony’s part. Everybody was lined up and I was like No no I’m the old man they was like you the old man. I was like yeah I’m the old man. Like I had a whole vision which I did. Like you know like I had a whole idea of who this guy was and including the hairstyle. Like I braided my hair. I grew my hair all summer so I could because I wanted to look like Frederick Douglass like I had a whole thing. It was like I was locked into this dude right. But the first day of my shooting was the scene outside when Calvin tells me that he sold the shop.

Your daddy may not have had a whole lot of money. But he was rich because he invested in people. What you think. You think I’m the only one he gave a job to. Calvin. No that man opened up the doors to anybody and any knucklehead round here city of Chicago that wanted to come down here and make something out themself. Gave them the opportunity to be somebody a liscenced professional barber.

For me to come into a comedy and then to deliver the most one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie was was something I was uniquely proud of because a lot of the crew came up to me afterward was like yo like we didn’t even know what this movie was about until you did that right there. You know like they was like because there was the robbery it was the bank you know. So they had no idea what the movie was about until that scene when people were shooting and they saw like how emotional I was about it. And I got mad and it was like Yo. So to be able to put it off on your first major movie in your first day of shooting was something I was really proud of and you know that I. That’s why asked you to watch that movie mainly for me you know what I mean. But but it’s a good movie but I just loved. You know the performance I gave throughout the movie.

He has a right to be proud. His performance is great even if the movie didn’t rack up any awards. It launched a small franchise and showed that Mr. The entertainer could do a lot more than just tell jokes. One of the best scenes in the whole film in fact is this little fight breaks out in the barbershop.

So his character immediately grabs a blade and is ready to use it.

Cut me somebody up in here.

Except the fight’s already over.

Almost messed up my part.

It’s the kind of small comedic gem that really can’t be taught. But it can be learned after spending so much time on the standup stage.

You know for me stand up is definitely my way in. It’s the thing that I like to do I feel like I like to do it naturally. So I still tour now like I got the new show. The neighborhood on on CBS and it is great but it allows me to still go out on the road. I like the what I call the immediacy of stand up it’s the only place for artists like myself to have content not edited or produced. You know so you know with television and film it’s several people that have opinions that’s going to happen in your project along the way it’s you know it’s very few writer directors that can. Very few probably Tyler Perry I guess is the only one that’s like I can do everything myself I don’t need your opinion you know what I mean. But most big directors and writers or whatever it’s other people that are gonna have opinions going to have to be able to interject standup is one it’s just you the audience the microphone and you just go and you make it happen. So I still love that but it is what I consider a young man’s sport you do learn to be a veteran at it and be kind of where you know you ain’t got to dunk all the time but it is a young man’s sport because you’ve got to travel to do it you’ve got to be out on the road you’ve got to go to other places there’s just no way to be you know a great stand up and just do it all the time you know. So I think that. Acting becomes equivalent to a stand up is definitely that first love because it’s to freest that I get to be being me like I can just do it whenever I feel like doing it.

The standup stage is like the ultimate freedom for a performer. It’s you a microphone and a red light that tells you when your time is up. It’s a little bit different than what he experienced in Hollywood even as his career got bigger his roles get huge. His creative input stayed small.

This idea of being hot and not being hot. Right. So I did a movie codename The Cleaner. And then I did the Honeymooners and both of these movies were movies that I executive produced on. But I did them for money. And this was one of these choices where they’d given me directors that were in like a pooling system but I had directors in my mind that I thought would be better for the projects and I didn’t fight for them because they were threatening to take away my money. So. After doing both of the movies and they they come out with not being the box office success then I’m no longer a person that can walk in a room and get a green light like before then. They were like oh Ced coming in you get a meeting if they want to do the movie they’d green light it. I’d get this big check you know it was power like and so once that went away it was those moments where you go like I didn’t trust my instinct. I made the money but I didn’t trust that thing that I believe in and then you feel like you’re constantly fighting to get that back. I would say even to this day I still even though I do a lot of movies and I’ve got a lot of projects I still haven’t got gotten that cache back that was that particular apex of both power Hollywood wanting you. And recognizing what to do with it. Like you know what I mean. And so when you kind of feel like you sliding down and you fighting to get up that’s one of those kind of weird moments where it’s rough because you’ve already tasting success and so you do have to have a centered-ness and a you know a kind of a faith to just work. Just kind of believe in work just believe in doing it. Getting back up on the bike going again and not worrying about that. Like you know you just can’t worry about you know how high it’s going to get or how low it’s going to get just if you love it just do it.

Though when the paychecks are ice age and Madagascar sized he doesn’t mind the work so much.

You know in your mind when you watch animation for the viewer you feel like it’s all you look at it in the same way you look at a movie as a movie. So you actually believe everybody that there together and doing all this. And so I was quite surprised.

Is it all together or is it just you alone.

It’s just you you in the booth. The writer the producers someone over in Japan on a machine every now and then you get somebody chiming in Cedric you hot and they like give you like weird directions exasperate it if you will when you say the word got it but you know it’s different because what I would do is kind of go back in to your days as a kid when you when you playing with your toys in the room and you giving everybody voices and you got your army man and you you know you using your skateboard as a ship you know like it’s just a whole thing and so that’s what I try to do when I do animation. Because you’re not really with anybody you have to think about and they give you the line and they give you the line several times because you know they can voice without really knowing what the drawing is going to be. So they may have you know like usually the director may have things in his head so he’s like you might be jumping off of a building and so give me one where you like ah and then and then but I might have you all running. So then I want you to breathe with it and so you just kind of like you got to be willing to kind of go in and out and you know it feels a little silly at times because it’s just you making it up and they have a video camera on you. And that’s what they use for you know like post stuff and then you see yourself doing stupid ah you like the homies can’t never see this ah you in a room by yourself like looking stupid. But you know I’ll tell you what when you get a Madagascar check everything every all of it goes out the window. Super short memory on the Madagascar checks.

May we all be so lucky to get a Madagascar sized check. I’m sure there’s a lot of zeros so Cedric the Entertainer’s seen firsthand that a career in Hollywood is really not a straight line. His time on stage night after night got him ready for the plethora of nos that one gets in the film and TV industry.

It is a tough one especially again probably I would say for my particular path because it always went so smoothly so I wasn’t rejected you know early I had success I had what I considered a pedigree I had these things that I thought you know all answers should be yes like you know I went from a stand up to hosting a stand up TV show Comic View on BET that made me a household name because back then Comic View used to come on every night you know BET was the premiere goto black channel like at that time it was it was like this is where black people went to watch TV. You know what I mean and especially for something like that. It was stand up. So I became a household name and really famous without the industry. I used to do a joke about that like I was hood rich hood famous like I could go anywhere black walk in people know who I am. I’m making a lot of money because I’m out on the road making a lot of money. I’ll go into a meeting out here and they’ll be like Cecil the interrogator you know they have no idea who I am. Yeah we heard of you. Courtney the Instigator you’re great. We love you. We love what you do. And it was one of those moments where you realize that you are in this this parallel universe where there’s things going on like way up here way above your pay scale. And so when somebody tells you you no in that environment it’s bruising man it bruises like so but you know I like to say you know with stand up probably is another thing because every joke doesn’t always work. Standup is very subjective so some people love a certain comedian some people go that dude ain’t really that funny to me. So you can go into any room at any time and have a group of people not really feel you and you have to learn that rejection. I took that rejection over to the movie business so after a while it just like alright cool that particular person didn’t get me. I’m going to move on to the next one because that doesn’t mean everybody doesn’t get me.

Alright I can’t imagine anyone not liking Cedric the Entertainer but it happens sometimes you’re not the right guy and he gets that but it doesn’t bother him. So that means that even now after all his success when really he should never have to audition again sometimes he still does try out but if it means he gets to work with the right people he’ll park his ego at the door and do it.

Probably the audition that most stands out to me and it was not too long ago the movie why him with Bryan Cranston and James Franco and it was one of these movies where a lot of people were going out for the role and it was this thing like well they wanted to make me feel special but you really realized that you were auditioning like it was this whole thing y’all will learn this language you know the director wants to take a meeting with Cedric you know and then you show up and there’s 15 other actors there you like this is an audition man. Yeah this ain’t no damn meeting man you know. Like I see my friends and stuff there I’m like oh man I’m auditioning right now. But knowing that you know again I guess you know for me after being in other movies after having some success the fact that I wanted to be in a movie with Bryan Cranston I wanted to be in a movie with James Franco. The director John Hamburg like big director these choices made me take the ego out of it. Like I. So you know that was the thing that I kind of remembered about the moment. I didn’t I decided not to be famous and do a famous thing like you know I just went in and auditioned and I got the role for that reason but I feel like that attitude led me to being creative in the moment being you know taking the character and doing a little something different than what mainly because I thought I was having a meeting so. So I wasn’t really prepared to audition. So I just kind of like took the words and did my own thing with it and that’s what the director you know ultimately wanted. So that was. And I remember that as a moment for me that I thought the blessing of having the right attitude at the right time and then being able to just kind of adapt with the circumstance was something that I would consider like a blessing to have been in that spot as opposed to thinking the other way about it.

That might not work for everyone treating an audition like it’s not an audition but well it worked for him he got the part though to be honest. Right now we might not be seeing him in as many movies moving forward because he’s really fallen in love with working in television.

Right now. Like I’m really loving the television space. I’d still want to continue to do movies. You know we got a couple of more dramatic type movies but now it’s about producing other shows shows for other people you know really kind of finding writers in the next phase which was really interesting about coming to a school in an environment like this is because it won’t be a surprise at all that in you know five years one of y’all going to come up to me like yo man you spoke at my school I was there that night you know and you’d be like Yo this is where really how relationships are formed and made and you’ll just be surprised by that. And I throw that out there as positive energy knowing that you guys are you’re next there’s always somebody next there’s always somebody that’s coming into this game that’s gonna be next. You can’t stop it. You know so no matter how hot you are how big you are you can be Brad Pitt super sexy man alive. Here come Ryan Gosling it’s just the way it go like you don’t get to be hot forever. I mean you could ride your hot forever but I mean that it guy is somebody gonna be that and producers and creators and talented people that y’all come in next and you know so it’s just important to be able to be in the energy so that’s what I try to throw out there.

And then part of being in this energy that he’s describing means you can’t get too caught up in the chaos of this industry. It’s easier said than done but you got to find a way to stay grounded.

I’ve always surrounded myself by a small team. I’m a I’m a person that loves big but I don’t really have a lot of big entourage. Like I’ll deliver I perform as your uncle your cousin people feel like they know me. Like like I’ve definitely had people walk up to me like hey Ced man. Just like talking I’ll be like bro. Like I don’t know like in your head when you had this other conversation with me but I don’t know you like that. You know. But I do think that you know to the core of your question is really just trying to remain true to the work that I do make sure that I’m focused on doing a good job that I don’t take the checks for granted. I don’t take the opportunities for granted. So that’s why I’m prayerful and why we gather and try to bring that synergy whenever we doing a project where people be all in one accord because what you realize is that it takes everybody to get the job done. You know I gave the example you can be funny on camera but if the camera man is just off by a little bit they missed the whole joke and you be like ah I killed it and you missed it you like so you actually need everybody to be doing their job at the highest of their ability. So you try to motivate that and so that everybody cares about what it is that they’re to do. And you guys will know this as you do work and you get in post and you like I ain’t got the shot I thought I had the shot. If you had a shot the money gone you can’t go back and the actors gone moved on to the next project. You can’t get it all over again. So that’s why it’s so important to always keep a positive energy when people are working around you and they’re not positive. Those are hard days when you’re trying to be a good person but when it’s time to move on it’s time to move on and you’ve got to be true about what it is that you’re doing. And you know I just try to take this spirit in everything that I do.

And part of knowing when to move on is to realize that you’re not going to only have one great idea. You’re going to have a lot of them. Because if you put all your time and energy into one idea. Well unfortunately that might become your last idea.

To all of you guys never think that this idea is your last idea lot of time. People start to hang they hat on one thing and if you don’t get that one done you count yourself as a failure. Just just no. Man that ain’t it. You can do 20 of these like when you start believing in that direction. Then you can handle rejection. You got to handle the nos but you have to believe that one idea once somebody saying no it’s not gonna stop you. So I got a new idea so because like with any idea unfortunately as much as you think is so unique when you get out into the bigger Hollywood you’ll be surprised when people like you know we’re actually already developing something along those lines and you be like what that’s my greatest idea and they be like I’m sorry. And then you know you didn’t see many people they stole my idea. You like they couldn’t have stole your idea. You just thought of it and they already produced it. Right. That mean that they thought that two years ago because it don’t happen that fast. If it’s on now. That means somebody had this already two years ago for it to actually be on. So that’s when you know like your idea was not as unique as you thought it was. But again it doesn’t prevent you from being creative and finish it. Finish it. That that exercise is going to make you stronger.

You’d be smart to listen to advice from a man who really has earned the title The Entertainer by the way. If you want to see Cedric perform in a remarkably dramatic role check out first reformed with Ethan Hawke it’s on amazon prime right now. He’s terrific at it and maybe he’ll actually be at the award show in his fancy wear sooner or later. We want to say thanks to Cedric the Entertainer for sharing his story with our students and of course thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on a Q and A moderated I Tova Laiter and a Murray Agee. To watch the full interview or to see or other Q and A’s. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube dot com slash New York Film Academy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself.

Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NY FAA. Thank you. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you Oscar nominated writer producer director Nancy Meyers.

I mean I see movies you know like war movies and explosions and things and I you know I shoot people in kitchens. So I don’t know what I’m complaining about. So I don’t know how they do it.

For close to 40 years Nancy Meyers has been one of the most reliable successful and popular writers in Hollywood. She put Goldie Hawn in army fatigues in Private Benjamin and helped Diane Keaton learn there’s more to life than work in baby boom. At a time when female directors were all too scarce she helmed multiple blockbusters including What Women Want. Something’s gotta give. And it’s complicated. She is pretty amazing. But first and foremost she considers herself a writer even if everything tries to get in the way of putting words on the page.

It’s your job and because we don’t have a boss and we don’t have a timecard it’s still our job. You have to be disciplined. You just really. I’ve always been really disciplined. I worked today from about 10 to 7 and I you know every time the doorbell rang or whatever I got up and did what I should do but I come right back and you know I think you must be disciplined. It’s never going to get done but if you’re really trying to make your living as a writer I think it has to be really a serious. You know Callie Khouri who wrote Thelma and Louise I was having dinner with her a couple of months ago where she was writing something and I said I’m just starting writing I said how often you go online. She said every 10 seconds. And I said Me too it’s a real problem. There’s just so many blogs that I love it’s so hard. But you know something like Today I don’t think I even went on anything. I mean just sometimes you get into the work and but yeah the refrigerator is calling me at all times. Raspberry’s you know. Oh raspberries.

Raspberries are but one of the many distractions a writer can face. But Ms Meyers doesn’t let writer’s block get in the way of keeping the material going.

The last couple of days have been kind of stuck and I’ve just been staying at it. Sometimes I’ll get up take a walk I’ll sit outside feel the sun a little bit. I play tons of music when I’m writing. So sometimes what I’ll do is completely change the tempo of the song and I’ll see how it reads with different music and I’ll never play anything really really slow or sad or melancholy unless that’s the mood of the scene. But I will change the tempo you know I’ll do anything from. I was playing Jay Z and Fred Astaire at some point today with the same scene. I really was. You know sometimes or sometimes I’ll put on like a Cole Porter song because the rhythm of the music and the words is so beautiful and so great that I want to see if my rhythm can fit in with it. Like if that were the score it helps sometimes I’ll say wow. Too many words now and sometimes I’ll just test myself and see how many words I can take out. And still the line stays the same. And I write a lot of words and I’m like the talkiest writer. So.

For many years Nancy Meyers was part of a creative and personal team with director Charles Shyer they worked together on Baby Boom father of the bride and irreconcilable differences. They were a great team but she’s more than found her voice on her own.

I loved having a writing partner. I really did for that period of time that I did it and I really I liked it all the time I really did. It was just great to have somebody else in the room and somebody to pitch with. I’ve also really really liked writing alone. I think I’ve had sort of the best of both worlds. The great thing about writing with somebody is somebody there you can say something and you know we always said just say it. Bad say the bad version of it you know. So the other person says. All right. The bad version is she works at a whatever abd you go that’s really bad. You said say the bad version but you say OK but then you kind of see the good thing in the bad version of something now. And I like both I liked both I really did.

Before diving into Page 1 of a screenplay Miss Meyers will spend months outlining her work to any aspiring writers listening please listen to her advice.

I outline extensively I used to write with a partner I used to write with my ex-husband as you know. So we would toss things out pitche things back and forth and sort of just say whatever came to us. You know take a million notes turn the notes into little binders binders into sections. You know he was very into the little you know the little section dividers you know dialogue. And since I’ve been writing by myself and not having that person to go back and forth with I pretty much just do it on my own I just blab into my computer not literally it just this kind of blabbing you know maybe he’s this maybe she this what if this oh maybe it’s like that thing I saw when I was in you know and every little thing I think of goes into this thing and then I begin to shape that into an outline but the outline has everything in it has research it has dialogue and has the what ifs you know and it just contains an enormous amount of stuff so the outline can be 100 pages long which is kind of where I am now in what I’m working on the outlines well over 100 pages. I would never want anyone to see it. You’d think I was crazy. There’s just so much information in it you know even for me I have to go through it with a highlighter. Like what. Why am I saying this ten times you know it’s like so I’ll highlight it figure out what it is I’m trying to say. And now I’m at the stage where I have the big thick outline and I’m turning it into a screenplay. And and it’s it’s it’s fun in that now I have something you know I have all this work that I’ve done some of the ideas are good some are not so good. Sometimes I surprise myself with just some funny little thing I threw into a descriptive thing and I’ll say oh was that buried in there. That’s like the best thing on the page. And then other times it’s you know I write it and it it doesn’t work you know. So you find it. You just find it as you go. So first drafts will probably take me well the outline took me about three months. This draft will probably take me two months. I’m trying to do it really faster than I’ve ever done before. I I always take about four or five months to get a first draft takes me about six months generally with the outline and then another three or four five months to make that into something I could show people.

When writing its complicated starring Meryl Streep Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin Miss Meyers needed this expensive process to figure out what her movie was actually about.

I don’t always know what the idea is though because like on this movie I knew I wanted to write a movie about a woman who has an affair with her ex husband who is married to somebody younger. So for a while I would say a man’s cheating on his young wife with his own wife then it was more like a divorced woman starts to have an affair with her ex husband who’s married which is a big difference because one movie movie’s about him and one movie is about her and of course I want to make a movie about her. What do I care about him. So it wasn’t until I was really deep into it that it hit me I’m making a movie about a divorce movie making a movie about what it’s like to be divorced from somebody. What’s that experience like. Ten years after a divorce so. So that’s really the theme had I didn’t know that until I really got very deep maybe I was even making the movie when I realized that I’m not sure but that’s really what it ultimately was about that’s my. That was my experience when I was writing that movie that’s what I was thinking about. I think that weird relationship. You’re all too young. But the weird relationship you have with somebody that you were married to that you had kids with. It’s an ongoing hell.

Ms Meyers reminded our students that it’s crucial to never show material until it’s ready to be seen. No matter how impatient you get. You won’t get a second chance to make that first impression.

I wouldn’t show it to anybody until the end. You know I wouldn’t show it to the studio I wouldn’t hand it in. So it doesn’t really matter what draft it is because only I see it or a select. Group of people. That you know that I trust. I’ve heard people say I’m going to hand it in. They’re going to give me notes anyway. Bad idea. You make it as good as you possibly can make it before you hand it and you cover every single question that you have anything any of your friends told you and if you show it to a couple of people and they and a couple of people say the same thing to you you have a problem generally it’s like a focus group if a couple of people say well she’s so mean. Well then she’s coming off mean and it’s maybe something you should look at. But there are dates you have to have things in by if you’re being paid to write something you kind of have to make that date or near that date. But I mean do whatever you can. Work every minute of the day to get it in the best possible shape because they are only going to read at once. That’s it. They’re not going to read it again. I mean if you’re not being paid to write something. Then what’s the difference how long it takes. You know meaning that if they haven’t given you a date you have to have it in by but those dates are flexible. Nobody gets them in they don’t.

What sets Nancy Meyers movies apart from other Hollywood products is that she puts female characters front and center. By her estimation this actually makes it easier to get her movies made.

I’m an optimist. I see nobody’s doing this. There’s like people like me they want to make movies and like you as much as you like hangover. You know there’s not. I mean it’s a different kind of movie than going to a movie that has a woman in it or has some you know Kate Winslet story or Cameron’s story or some female story. So no no no I don’t worry about that. I think that’s a good thing. Look at bridesmaids and it’s so great. And I mean where’d all these women come from hello they want to go to the movies. In my case I didn’t direct a movie till I was in my 40s. So already I had made hit movies. I was a known commodity so they felt safe with me. I wasn’t your age setting out with a brand new script and trying it it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s hard. I know it’s hard and and people often ask me you know how do you do it. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know how you get started but it happens because they’re hiring tons of new people to do huge movies. You know somebody does a video and suddenly they’re directing you know a hundred million dollar movie. So. I don’t know how I’m the worst person to tell you how to get a movie into Sundance I’m clueless.

Her films might include upper class people living in beautifully designed homes finding love in the most unexpected ways. Just don’t call her movies wish fulfillment.

Wish fulfillment. I read that in a lot of reviews of my movies and architecture porn and all this stuff there’s nothing in the movie that you take away from that’s about that I don’t think you take away what you can relate to and the experience even if you’re young you’ve had an ex boyfriend or an ex girlfriend. You feel you’ve made a life mistake. You try to be daring one time or you smoke pot for the first time in 20 years or there’s something you can relate to being hurt trying to fall for somebody again opening yourself up to somebody again to me those are the take away things and that’s really what I’m writing about but I don’t forget that I’m making a movie. So as long as I’m going to like. You know build a house from Meryl Streep I’m going to build a nice one you know the movie is not going to be any better if she’s unemployed. You know and living in a in a different kind of an environment. And I think that’s kind of fun for the audience and it lets me. I think that kind of the superficial stuff allows me to write about things that other people don’t make movies about to me real things that are happening to women or people relationships.

After decades of writing and producing movies Miss Meyers took the plunge and began directing. But when asked about her preferences as a storyteller directing wasn’t one of them.

Because you have written directed and produced. Do you feel that there is one that you really love the most.

It wouldn’t be directing. So put that at the bottom. Producing is kind of a drag. You just have to do it. And so I would guess writing directing is just war like going to war every single day. That’s how I see it. I know you’re all dying to be directors. But. I think. Most directors would be honest with you. It’s a battle there’s some battle every day. Time money actors weather. Stuff just so much stuff happens every day you can’t believe it. And there’s a million people that want you to accomplish something that helps them right. So you know I just sort of put blinders on this is what I have to do today. This is what the scene is about. This is why I’m going to get. And when I see all those people with their hand signals telling me a million different things I pretty much just don’t see them. When I was just a producer like father of the bride all those movies that my husband directed I was the producer on. It’s easier than being a director and that’s for sure you know. But we worked for my husband my ex husband and I worked very closely together. And so I never felt stress free. I never felt like you know I can go out to dinner now. No. You know it was still what are we doing tomorrow and how are we going to get it and. You know it still deep in the blood so I never really have produced a movie that I didn’t write or you know where I’m distance from it. I would find it much more challenging to direct somebody else’s movie because I would always worry about the intent before I got there on the first day. I would grill the writer about everything I’d have the writer there because knowing what it’s about. It’s just like writing you know I can’t write a scene unless I know what it’s about. I can’t just start winging it and hope I find it. This is going to be a scene about and then I and I can write it. Same thing with directing I have to know what the goal is or it will get derailed and I’m not saying obviously brilliant directors Martin Scorsese doesn’t write his own movies I’m saying. For me it would be hard.

Nancy Meyers initially focused on writing and producing while raising her children. So for her directing debut The Parent Trap she took her children along for the ride.

Well I didn’t direct till. As I said I was in my 40s and I’d been making movies since my 20s. And that’s because I had two kids and. I produced and wrote movies always but I didn’t direct them because you know that’s just sort of the ultimate time suck and devotion that you have to have that. But I did direct a movie when I had an 11 year old. But you know what. I took her with me. I put her I gave her a part in the movie. She had no interest in acting. And I said you know I want you to be there because I was working with all these children her age and I didn’t want her to feel that I was you know favoring Lindsay or spending all this time with other kids her age so I said come on it’ll be fun. We’re going to go to Arrowhead and you’ll be in the camp scenes. And you know and then my older daughter became a P.A. on the movie. So for me that’s how I integrated it. You know I kept them close and I’ve always done that with my kids. I do believe that women tend to do two or three jobs all the time where men have the luxury of going to work. And we’re always sort of the juggling never stops. You know I mean I sent an email on the way here to my daughter who’s now 23. Did you go to the dermatologist yet. I mean you know a mother’s job it never ends. It just never ends. You know what it’s like when you’re directing a movie and you have little kids. It’s a lot so I don’t know. But my mantra’s you have to figure out what’s right for you. For me it was right at a certain point it wasn’t right any earlier than that. My kids always loved coming to the set. It was really fun. They didn’t really love the set that much they liked the trailer. And they liked the golf carts you know that they could ride. Being on the set and watching wasn’t that much fun.

Whatever. Hesitation Miss Meyers might have had about directing her films clearly show her skill with actors.

I think really good actors want direction. They don’t always act like they want to be directed. But I think they want to be directed. I think it’s actually I think everybody does. I was going to make some dumb analogy something like a less good actor don’t that’s not true. I think they all do. I think they all want direction and. I think. They really good ones have a magic to it. That I can’t give them. They come with that. But I think that the discussion that we have when I’m directing them and when I’m explaining something to them and how they take that in and then how they give that back to me is you know Nicholson and Streep and Keaton and Winslet you know they’re on another level that group they just are but they listen and they and they help you know they go from movie to movie from script to script to director to director. And the really good ones I think even though they can sometimes fight you or whatever they eventually want to they want to give you what you want they do. They’re not there doing their own version of the movie. They know that I have to make this thing work. I have to cut this together. This has to hang together and it’s shot completely out of order. And the really good ones like Jack you know he’s got three by five cards with all the beats of the scenes which is not even something I do. This is something he does. He breaks every scene down into beats. He’s got those cards in his pocket and between takes no really he’ll pull them out and he’ll look at the beats and he’s got them up but in his trailer on a bulletin board he knows the script backwards and forwards Keaton has got it memorized at the first table reading everyone else has their script out and she just like pretends to make everyone else not feel bad but she’s actually has memorized the entire script. They’re prepared Streep’s really always extremely prepared. She’s a very interesting person to watch and working with her. She’s she’s got such enormous range. As you know just enormous. So even if she starts some way and I prefer to come a little this way I mean she can get there and she just and she can bring stuff that you couldn’t come up with that she does on her own and then she can integrate your notes and just she’s wonderful and she can self direct sometimes so beautifully because sometimes I’ll be watching a take and I’ll think Gee I wish. And the next take I won’t say anything and the next takes she does it. She’ll also feel I could adjust that moment you know like she’s just incredibly smart and Nicholsons like available. You know what I mean. He’s just so available. He loves closeups. When you say we’re going to go in for the close up he lights up I mean you think are you kidding me. You’re Jack Nicholson you’re still excited when we get to do a closeup of you he says yes I am. He puts his eye drops and you know really into it he’s a wonder to watch. He’s scary but you know that’s because he’s so damn famous. You know when you first started to work with him you just sort of are. You know Meryl’s the same way and Diane was the same way when I first started she was Annie Hall for God’s sake. You know it’s like. There they are. But that all goes away by the end of the day it goes away almost. What good is it for me to not be honest with the actors. Doesn’t help them. They’re just going to be pissed at the end of the day if the movie doesn’t work. You know they read the script they say they want to be in it. I have to help get them there. I have to form this thing and make it work. And so whatever that piece of the puzzle is we’re doing that day often not always but some actors I’m not referring to Jack they’re really looking at their part right now. I have to look at the whole movie and how the scene fits with the scene before on the scene that comes after it. And yeah so that’s my objective you know so I for me to be intimidated by them would just serve nobody. And we all work for the movie. That’s how I see it. They don’t work for me I don’t work for them we work for the movie. I say I don’t like directing but the best part is when they’re acting truthfully you know once it’s set up and it’s lit and it’s decorated and their wardrobe is done and all that crap is all done and then they’re performing. That’s the fun.

Miss Meyers expressed her frustration that she seldom gets the time to rehearse with actors so she found a creative solution to get some much needed face time with her performers before production begins.

There’s never a rehearsal on movies no one’s ever around. No one’s ever around at the same time. And this movie Alec was on 30 Rock. Right up till we started shooting. So I had Meryl and Steve for a day. I had Krasinski for a day. I never have anybody on the holiday. No one was ever in town at the same time so I rehearsed with every single one of the actors with me doing all the other parts like me and Jude know it was like crazy. Me doing Cameron’s part and Jack and me and I’m doing Kate this is crazy. We never had anybody they’re never around. I don’t know anybody that gets a chance to rehearse anymore. The first time you really spend time with the actors other than general early meetings is once they’re hired you. One of the first things you do is you have wardrobe fittings with them and I think those wardrobe fittings are enormously valuable because you they start trying on clothes. Right. Like in this movie for example Meryl came to the first wardrobe fitting in a short wig. I didn’t say anything but I see she’s trying something out. You know let her that’s her perogative. Let her see how she looks she’s trying to find her character you know. And we tried on. Different things. Nothing was working. But what she wears in the opening scene of the movie is a white pair of pants and a white top that came out of that fitting and we all agreed that looks like Jane. Now we’re getting somewhere that looks like her well why does that look like her. You know so we start having this conversation. She came in the next day the next fitting another wig different length different color. Different thing we put the white outfit back on you know and she said no the hair is not right. And I said I don’t think so either. You know we just. So we start building that way. My first wardrobe fitting with Jack for Something’s Got To Give was six hours. He tried on one pair of pants. I’m not kidding he tried on one pair of pants. He just sat there and he smoked and we talked about character because he didn’t understand why the guy’s not in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He’s at the beach. And you know that was kind of an interesting conversation. Why isn’t he in just shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. You know so you get to talk about the guy’s background and what the Hamptons means to him and that’s not really how people are dressing in the Hamptons and you know and you just sort of build and build and build and build. So I find that time super valuable and I have with everybody everybody I’ve ever worked with and then you know you just keep chatting. You just keep chatting. I’ve written letters phone calls go up to their house just try to grab as much time with them as I can before we start shooting because I think when you’re shooting is not the time to say where did she go to college. That is not the time we have too much work to do. So all that discussion you know comes before as much as possible. The opening scene of this movie Meryl’s and Alec it was the way they’re dressed. I wanted the audience to think they look like a couple because when you go out as a couple you tend to say well what are you wearing a suit. Are you wearing a jacket. You know you kind of you want to look like you’re going to the same place. So I dressed them kind of coordinated. So it’s very subtle but it’s a detail that I like you know and then the new wife has got some insane outfit on who looks completely weird and doesn’t look like she should be with anybody at that party is with this husband who’s in the nice navy jacket and khaki pants and so wardrobe tells the story. The sets tell the story I knew in Merrill’s house you know I wanted one big room because I think she had this house that wasn’t huge and she knocked down all the walls when she moved in there with her three kids after the divorce. And as much as I tried to make the kitchen look bad it apparently looks beautiful. But if you stood in the set you would say because Meryl came in one day and said could it look worse. So we added water damage and you know the knobs are kind of like cracked and falling. But this didn’t translate I didn’t do close ups of the water damage so it looked nice. But you really for a woman who’s a professional cook she really had very little. But those discussions go on endlessly.

You can tell you’re watching Nancy Meyers film by the attention paid to costume and production design she might not have the Avengers or a Decepticon in her films but she still makes sure they’re strikingly cinematic.

The holiday was quite hard to make but very enjoyable. The girls were so lovely they were like the two nicest people ever. But their schedules were such that I had to do a lot of traveling and kind of repeat and go back to sets I’d already usually once you’re finished with a set you get rid of it and you move on but I shot with Kate and then I have to come back in two months and shoot there with Cameron and hold the sets and it was difficult. It’s just kind of strenuous. And we went to England and we just hit snowstorm after snowstorm and everybody kept saying it never snows in England you won’t have any problem. The studio would be calling and I’d say it’s snowing. It’s snowing. What do you want me. I can’t show. That was hard but I mean I see movies you know like war movies and explosions and things and I mean I think you know I shoot people in kitchens so I don’t know what I’m complaining about. So I don’t know how they do it. Well like in the holiday. You know I had clear images that Cameron’s House should have an incredible kitchen that’s never been used kind of cool colors. You know it wasn’t going to. There was no color in there it was not warm at all and Kate moved and we put red flowers around and we started to warm it up a little bit. All that is predetermined and we don’t I don’t arrive on the day and say this would be good. Maybe we should have colored flowers here I mean that’s in an email that they get three months before shooting. I do think about those details. You know in something’s got to give. I drew the house. I drew the house just not the details of every piece of the house but I drew the layout of it all based on the scene when Jack comes out of his bedroom and she comes out of her bedroom they meet and go into the kitchen. So the fact that the doorways weren’t lined up still drives me crazy because in my drawing they were lined up. But I knew in that house I wanted the desk in her bedroom because I wanted her to have given up on love and. Bed and work can be in the same room. You know those kind of things that I think about.

This attention to detail is what makes her movies stand out and why she is one of the most successful female directors of all time. We want to thank Nancy Meyers for sharing her experiences with our students and thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter. To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson. Who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.


Hi, I’m Eric Conner Senior Instructor at New York Film Academy.

And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and in this episode, we take a look at the career of Gordon Smith Emmy winning writer of Better Call Saul.

I’m going to be full of spoilers if you haven’t seen this. Get out now. I don’t care. I don’t. I don’t actually believe spoilers lessen anyone’s enjoyment of anything so I’m going to be spoiler heavy.

We’ll be talking about Better Call Saul we’re going to be talking about Breaking Bad. We’re not saying if you haven’t seen the shows like you know you can’t listen but you might want to watch a little Better Call Saul over I think it’s three or four seasons now. It’s basically. Really formed its own voice and Gordon Smith got to be there at the ground floor for Better Call Saul. Because he paid his dues on Breaking Bad as an assistant.

The sort of entry-level P.A. production assistant stuff. I was supporting both the editorial department so post and the writers department. It was everything from getting lunches and you know going on runs and at the time which doesn’t seem like it was that long ago but we were still distributing like dailies and cuts on DVD which meant that I had to like run them all over town and drop them off a different place so I do run to AMC and do runs to Sony and get the get get physical copies of DVDs and like make them burn them label them and then send them out all over town. The nice thing was that it opened up opportunities for doing stuff in the digital space for the show because the producers were very generous and were like hey we know you what we know you have these aspirations. Can you write this game for the website. Can you write this you know copy for the back of the DVD box or things like that. The big thing I would say about being a P.A. It seems everyone wants to kind of skip those steps. I did learn a tremendous amount. And you have a great opportunity to be like boots on the ground learning from the people around you and if you have a good attitude and do your job well they notice like everyone wants you to do that job well because it’s like you know it feels like it’s grunt work. But if you have a great attitude it goes so far towards people like looking at you and being like oh maybe I can give you more. You’re not sweating. You know I’m going I’m going to keep loading you up until you break essentially. So I was a P.A. And that was that gig. And then the Producer’s Assistant role a lot of it is maintaining sort of schedule for your boss and making sure that everybody who needs to get in touch with them can get in touch with them and also being able to prioritize when that’s the case because it’s like the president of the networks calling probably need to pull him out you know making judgment calls and just using your discretion and being somebody that your boss can lean on and kind of trust to make those kinds of calls and because of how he produced the show. You’re the primary line of communication between all of production and the show runner in this case. So like it meant that you know everything was props were coming in and all the things for review. All these questions from set. And again you had to kind of know everything’s burning so it’s like OK this is burning to this degree this fire is like here this. This fire’s like here which fire do I have to put out first because like this is somebody calling me telling me they absolutely need to do this. But it’s like somebody else has a need too so you’re kind of balancing like and being able to assess like in terms of what’s what where where. Every second you’re working someone’s time is burning and that’s all money that’s going down the drain so you kind of want to know where the most expensive fire is and like put that out. It’s usually production like if something’s happening and it’s holding up production you’re just wasting a ton of money if you don’t put that fire out.

I love how he starts talking to his students about the qualifications for P.A. And how hard of a job that is. It’s so essential for students to know that.

And also the paying their dues thing which is such a cliche and everyone hates hearing it oh you god to pay your dues kid right and it’s like we know.

And a lot of people don’t want to know.

God no. No one wants to. But I think part of it’s kind of like anytime you do a job showing up.

Showing up.

Showing up early you know.

Being on time.

Reliable you know. It’s like the very basics of not just this industry but any industry.

And it’s also the attitude behind it a lot of people think it’s beneath them.


And if you go in and learn the ropes I mean the knowledge alone that you get from that.

Right. And I mean he got to work with the writers sort of. Pre pro and you know in post and he was eager.


And because of that. They gave him more you know that was the thing that you prove yourself with this then they’ll give you this plus that you know you bring in fours coffee and then four coffees and a bagel but eventually that’s hey can you stay around you. What do you think of this line?

And just again that positivity goes such a long way and being able to talk to people and really listen too.


That’s the difference.

What you do as a writer’s assistant is I mean it varies from show to show. But for me it was mostly you’re taking notes in the room so you are taking down everything so people are talking and you’re trying to organize all the pitches and the pieces of dialogue and sort of get it in a form that remembers what the room was doing remembers what you know the 18th pitch on this on a scene looked like so that somebody could go through and be like yeah there was that piece of that one pitch that really works in the final form. And there’s this piece that works here. So you’re trying to keep tabs on all of that so that when it comes time for the writers to go out and we we work on index cards so like when a scene is broken. We write it down on index cards and put them up on a board. But those are very condensed. So it’s like you want to be able to read the card and go oh yeah there’s a piece of dialogue here. I remember it and go find it in the notes. You’re also you know you can be the keeper of continuity a lot of times and just knowing what people have pitched. What made it into the script. Oh yeah didn’t always have a piece of dialogue about this and it’s also sometimes just your first line of defense against bulls**t because it’s like you know someone will pitch something and be like what if there was a poison that did this and then it made this person do this and thinking just quickly search and be like is there a poison that does that. No that’s not really how that works. Is there a law that’s this. No there’s not really that. So just like a baseline. You can we obviously stretch to make make the story work we stretch all the time. But it’s like the sort of classic example is the the mercury fulminate in season two of Breaking Bad which mercury fulminate is, in fact, an explosive and it is that it does look that way but the amount that he had would not blow out those windows you know it just wouldn’t be that degree of explosive that kind of thing. So but it’s like there’s a truth there but there’s also like right now we want it to be we want it to be cool. So you know it’s that kind of knowing when you can boost the level to eleven when you got to play it straight. So it was very cool to be in that that room and just be a fly on the wall.

You know I talk in class about comic book store guy from The Simpsons. He’s the one who talks like. Obviously, this is a lie. That is not how the scene would have played out. Thank you. And by the way, if you go see a movie in Los Angeles you’ll you’ll there’s a fair amount of those guys in the audience.

There’s so many guys in the audience like that.

Some of them might even look like me. I won’t lie but in essence that’s like the writer’s assistant part of his gig was peculiarly because he had Breaking Bad which. Had a character as a scientist who’s a chemist. And so like trying to have. Enough of a science in there that it doesn’t feel fantastical.

Well, I always wondered that too. So many times you watch a movie you watch a show and you think to yourself the writers really either had to do their research or they’re really smart on the subject and you always wonder how far that goes. So it’s almost nice to know that they do. Wait you can’t have that that doesn’t work. That’s not how that works.

Yeah, it’s like there’s truth and there’s truthy and then there’s no truth whatsoever. And the beauty of Breaking Bad is you watch it you believe it.

Oh yeah hands down.

That show was so well put together. And the pilot episode if you if you only could see one episode watch that one. It really is a perfect pilot. And yet that show didn’t get popular for a while.

It didn’t. And it’s interesting how it took a slow start for you know my opinion and I’m pretty sure everyone agrees with me. One of the best series out there I watched the first season. On a marathon. I was hooked. Word of mouth. I told everybody.

And then all a sudden as Gordon Smith was explaining to us it’s like. The show wasn’t hit right away but it built up steam. And then it became. That show everyone was watching.

We were aware when things started getting more so. But when I started on the show no one knew it honestly in Season 3 which is when I started no one knew it. I was like I’d tell people it’s like Oh I work on this show and they’d be like Oh what what show I’m like. Well, it’s it’s on a channel you’ve never heard of. And then they’d be like OK what’s the channel they’d press and I’d be like well it’s the other show that the channel that Mad Men is on it and they’d be like oh ok cool. But they never didn’t they hadn’t heard of it hadn’t seen it and then it’s really started to kind of pick up in season 4. Like there was a definite curve where like people were picking up the show more and more and more and more and more and more. So I think there were a couple things. I mean it had gotten word of mouth and people were starting to sort of be like you know have you seen this no have you seen and then like that that word of mouth. And obviously we know there had been a bunch of Emmy nominations and some and Bryan had won consistently to that point. So it’s like that was out there. And also we got lucky in the timing because Netflix streaming really started becoming accessible and they put the first three seasons on and a lot of people caught up on the first three seasons before Season 4 and so they went into Season 4 going oh my god what’s going to happen from from the end of Season 3 which ends with the sort of semi-cliffhanger of of Jesse having shot Gale in the face. I’m going to be full of spoilers if you haven’t seen this. Get out now. I don’t care. I don’t. I don’t actually believe spoilers lessen anyone’s enjoyment of anything so I’m going to be spoiler heavy but Season 3 into Season 4 I think people were able to kind of catch up in a good way.

Spoilers let’s start there. I hate spoilers I can’t stand them.

But he just said it doesn’t matter.

He said that yeah no I just I don’t want to know anything and then I go into it in complete shock talk about Jesse killing Oh my goodness. Let’s relive all of Breaking Bad right now.

I mean it lived and died by those great twists and turns along the way.

And word of mouth got so strong there. Like he said Season 3 into Season 4 everybody was watching it. Everybody was talking about it. And still to this day when I hear someone hasn’t watched it I’m like I will sit you down right now and watch the whole thing with you all over again. And I have several times.

And I remember even during the finale it was like everyone knew. Don’t call.

Don’t call.

No one called anyone no one texted.

Nothing on Facebook.

No you become like a bear you hibernate until 8:00 p.m. And this show came out of the mind of Vince Gilligan Vince Gilligan was on X Files before he created Breaking Bad and he wrote this terrific episode called Drive which starred Bryan Cranston and that’s how he also get that idea of like Bryan Cranston could play this role even though Bryan Cranston was known as the dad on Malcolm in the middle you know and.

Such a drastic change.

And what Gordon Smith got to do is he got to work with Vince Gilligan. And that’s one of the reasons Gordon Smith’s career is where it is now. He truly did learn from one of the best.

One of the great things about being a producer’s assistant was that I got to go to Albuquerque whenever Vince was directing which was a totally different experience it’s not just sort of being in the writers room which I knew the rhythm of a little bit but this was just like being thrown to the wolves and production was a very different animal. The pace is very different. So it’s just like OK what am I doing what’s what’s happening here. But watching some of those scenes play out like there’s a big scene where Jessie confronts Walt and it took it took a full day to shoot that and it was really challenging. And Vince was like trying to work with the actors and figure out what was working and what wasn’t working but something wasn’t clicking for him and so it was like. That was a really interesting moment to see like what this creative process was like and how grueling it was and how like small things were really making a difference. And. We had a similar thing with blowing Gus’s face off and like just getting all of the technical because that’s like that was like three different shots that were all married together in post because you couldn’t blow the door off and have a human like we had to do the door blowing off and then the dolly in and all of those parts were really challenging to make sure that they went off just right. And so it was it was this like marriage of like that. Precision of technique and the sort of overall artistic vision was great and really educational.

And if you’ve seen that scene of Gus’s face being blown off or half off right.

Half off yeah because he still had a little bit.

The best part he straightened his tie.

He did. Oh how did he live. Oh, wait he didn’t live really.

No no I don’t think.

That’s oh no he’s dead. OK.

So Gordon Smith got to be part of Vince Gilligan’s team for that and which meant seeing kind of everything work together to make this and then he gets the call.


They say hey you’re ready for the major leagues. You know and lo and behold he went from being a writer’s assistant producer’s assistant. To actually being a writer.

How amazing would that feel. To get that call and be able to just slip into that new role. The one that you’ve been dreaming of. But he does talk about. What that means about losing all the different responsibilities and being able to just focus on the one.

The transition was fast as they say it was like one day I was Vince’s assistant and the next I was not it wasn’t hard to get into the room in the sense of like you know I’m here and everyone’s talking about the story I’m going to talk about the story but I used to I used to know everything like as the showrunners assistant I knew all the information that was going out to everybody I was in like just sort of in the mix of everything and then suddenly I wasn’t I was only involved and only had to do the story and it was like I don’t. I have no idea what’s going on with production. I don’t know what’s going on with hiring directors I have no idea what meetings are going on. And that was a little weird for a few months and then and then I just forgot about it and was like I don’t care anymore. I don’t I don’t need to know that. Honestly better people than I am are handling that stuff. Now in terms of breaking the story and what we do we work very slowly. We’ve had the luxury of kind of a lot of time. We work much slower than a lot of rooms which is great. So yes so we get into the room and usually, it’s like we spend two to three weeks maybe just sort of blue skying and being like alright. Where did we leave things and what does that do for us like where can we go just ideas about characters and where they could go and what we could do. We really don’t do what a lot of shows do. We don’t really break a season like we we will have ideas about where things could go. We don’t lay them out. We don’t kind of set end points or we will kind of lay them out on a board and just be like this. Maybe this maybe that but like big guiding lights that we’ve had often change and move and like they almost always come faster but sometimes they go slower than we think they will. And that was the same on Breaking Bad. We had a ton of ton of things like that that were just like we had a line we kept thinking what’s going to happen. Where like when Hank finds out that Walt is dealing and confronts Skyler that she was going to be like well take your best shot if you think you can take my husband down and we were like That’s really cool that would be really interesting to see the two of them together like that and fight against Hank. It’s like we just never got there. You can kind of see how it guided into the show like some some sense of that but we never got literally to that plot point which I think is it’s a virtue of the way that we tend to work because it’s like we have ideas and if if wherever we we think we want to be and where we are don’t match up we’re just like well this is what we do. We don’t we don’t say well we have to get to such and such a point by episode 5 so we have to do this this this and this to get to that. It’s almost always sort of I feel like it’s backward looking. So it’s like what have we done and where are the characters. Where do they most logically go next. And that has served us in good stead because I think it allows the opportunity to like investigate things and pull them forward and be like oh you know we have this moment. What is that? What can we explore that more. It’s fun and I think it is. It is. It feels like you’ve planned to do something like Ah that’s paid off here but it’s like no we just kind of looked at what what actually ended up in the show and sort of asked what it means for down the line and then and then you know when we get to it we get to it it’s mostly like okay you know this character’s here and you know Mike’s here we know he does these things in the future. Is he there yet. No, he’s not. Doesn’t feel like he’s there yet. OK well, what could get. Is there something? What are the intermediate steps that would get you there? OK well, we need to get something like this or something like this that would move that character. It is a little bit baffling because we have the backstories of these characters that we’re exploring as well as knowing that there’s this whole lump of Breaking Bad that informs all of those decisions that we want to make sure are like fit. And then there’s because Saul Goodman survives Breaking Bad. There’s also after. There’s a period of time after Breaking Bad that we set stuff so we have these different we have. We have a bunch of different time periods that were like trying to keep keep keep in order which our writers assistants and our script coordinator and our other our assistant staff has done a great job like keeping track of.

I love how he talks about taking their time to investigate the characters really taking their time and not having to rush to get to a certain place and to really investigate.

And also too like what’s interesting about Better Call Saul it’s kind of like that’s a train that’s going but we know eventually that train’s going to link up with the train that is Breaking Bad and in Better Call Saul though they also show you a little bit of Saul’s fate after the events of Breaking Bad. So yeah I mean it’s lot of tracks they got to keep track of and you know this is the issue of a prequel. You know prequel’s like you’re beholden to what comes after you and we’ve already seen all that. How do you keep it interesting when we know the endgame. And I think Better Call Saul has shown years in that they’re able still to surprise you because it’s so rooted in him. And basically, that’s been their compass.

Yeah. You know where you’re going to go but yet you have so much story to tell.

Yeah. A lot of room to play and the writers found that even the actors would help them with the work they already did on Breaking Bad. There was only so much backstory that had ever come across in that show so they had to make a lot of this stuff up from whole cloth. And so it was up to the writers and also even in some cases working with the actors to figure out what made Saul Saul.

Actually the stuff that that we’re sort of given as back story for Saul or like ideas for Saul which or rather backstory for Saul that are not things that he says in the course of Breaking Bad but even those we’ve we had taken liberties with because we’re like oh is there a way to make that the thing that he says in Breaking Bad. True is it absolutely true on its surface. But the way it actually comes out like there’s the line where he says in Breaking Bad you know I once convinced a woman that I was Kevin Costner and it worked because I believed it. It’s like I read the line it worked because I believed it and then we see him kind of pull that off but it’s not actually the way that we would have thought in Better Call Saul he does pull that trick off. So we we’ve done some adaptation. We didn’t really have much of a backstory for Mike at all. We knew certain details from like one interview with Hank. I think and we took those and we sort of went OK well we know these things are true. Jonathan Banks had approached us and was like you know that woman who waves at me and is there with Kaylee. I don’t think she’s my daughter. I think she’s my daughter in law. And he’s like and I think and you know at that point we knew his son wasn’t around. We’d never seen him. We’ve never talked about him. None of that. So we’re like OK. And so he had pitched that his son was a boxer who died in the ring and he was like Yeah I really think that this is this is this idea and he just pitched it and he’s like Yeah this is what it was something that he was kind of working on as an actor. He was like this is sort of what I’m working on as my interior life for what where I am and my circumstances. And we went that’s cool that’s interesting that’s an interesting way to think about it. And then we started talking about it we’re like well maybe there’s something there about the son and maybe the son the son certainly seemed to be dead because it seemed like he wasn’t there in Breaking Bad. So we started asking those questions that obviously led to the episode. So we’re very liberal with sort of understanding we didn’t have that much to go off of except for sort of like the established pieces of information about them that they’d said and even then we’re still trying to grapple with like OK is that real? Did do we have to take that as canon do we have to take that literally. Is that true? Is that a lie? Is that someplace? Is that a poetic truth? So we’ve been trying to get as flexible we can basically.

It’s cool to hear that the actor’s personal choice for the character’s backstory helped inform the writers and they were open to hearing that and working with them to get there.

And also to these actors that already played these characters for years. You know so it’d be kind of silly not to talk to the actors but yet not every writer director has the same kind of trust and confidence. I wish we could say that it was that was the case but it’s not and you know the thing they came up with Mike’s backstory where Mike’s son was a cop. And Mike was as well and the actor he basically does a monologue about what happened to his son. And it is the most heartbreaking scene.

Boy was stubborn. My boy was strong. And he was going to get himself killed. Now I told him I told him I did it too. That I was like Hoffman getting by. And that’s what you heard that night. Me talking him down him kicking and screaming until the fight went out of him. He put me up on a pedestal and I had to show him that I was down in the gutter with the rest of them. Broke my boy. I broke my boy.

All of that came from the actor doing his own take on the character with one little exchange.


From one moment of Breaking Bad which beget this beautiful beautiful speech that got Jonathan Banks an Emmy nomination.

And Mike the character is such a relatable character and but also so interesting so many different levels and the way he plays it is beautiful.

He does not say much. And he doesn’t need to.

He doesn’t need to.

And I think this writer’s room from the way Gordon Smith describes it they have a really open communication between the directors and the writers and the actors to make sure they’re being true to the story even if they’re maybe tweaking it from where Breaking Bad was.

Which allows the writers to have the freedom to fail as long as they try.

And failing’s ok.

Failing’s okay.

Because from failure comes.


I was going say more failure but success sounds so much better.

For me it’s knowing the room and also knowing the room and not being afraid to be wrong like or to be contradicted like you’re going to think OK here’s this pitch and I can see it in my head and it’s perfect. And then you pitch it and then it kind of it either comes together or you feel like you pitched it perfectly or not but like maybe it doesn’t get a response. And it’s like sad face but whatever you know you can if it’s if it’s really perfect you can come back around to it if it’s really perfect. It’ll be the thing that somebody else will come back around to and like be like well what about this thing that you know we didn’t we discarded as a thought. So it’s kind of to me it’s really good about not being precious about it you know just be like hey here’s a thought you know what if we did it this way also that even that even that language is great. Like what if we. Well here’s the bad here’s the bad version is a great one because you’re trying to because then you’re you’re saying look here’s the architecture that I’m picturing I’m picturing you know this this thing and you may not be able to pull up the like the perfect polished version immediately but if you can pull up here’s the architecture it’s the bad version would be blah blah blah blah blah. It’s like you know it’s a super cliche version but you you get the idea. Like is there a world where this happens. It also helps people kind of not feel defensive and not feel like they’re judging it’s some it’s tricks that are sort of like improv based tricks almost to like keep people going OK well let’s play with that let’s think about that and if you know people will have to reject things like You’ll probably reject things they’ll reject things but it helps make it feel like it’s you’re just you’re just building hey we’re just playing. We’re just talking here when it becomes more confrontational it becomes more like. I actually tend to be fairly argumentative myself like in my personal dealings with life. And so like if somebody starts arguing with me I’m just like I’m going to f**king destroy you I’m like it just I can’t help it and I have to remind myself no no no it’s just we’re just having a conversation. No big deal.

You know one thing he said and this is an expression I use in writing class too is you can’t be too precious about these things. If you treat your first draft like it’s awesome. Like I just came up with perfection. You’re not going to be much of a writer. See how it plays you know say a line. It’s great at 2 a.m. when I was writing it on a cocktail napkin.

But being open to someone coming back and being like Well what if we try.

Yeah yeah, there’s an art of giving a note and there’s an art of taking a note and no defense. As an actor too you know this it’s like you get notes from the director or you don’t put up a wall or a shield because in that room if you start to put up the wall you’re not gonna hear anything you know. And in a collaborative medium like TV where you have a writing staff. It’s a team. It’s not just one player.

And just not again just not being afraid to be wrong when you pitch an idea. And being open and on Better Call Saul. Gordon finally got to see his own episode which was awesome and I wonder how he took any notes.

This was my first produced episode of television. It’s it’s fascinating. It’s like as the writer on set you’re kind of the emissary of the writer’s room so you’re there to answer questions and kind of make sure that the tone and the feeling everything that was kind of discussed because you know we discuss these things for hundreds of man hours right an episode if we spend two weeks with 10 people in the room which is more than we do but you know you’re you’re there for a long time and you’ve got the collective wisdom of all of that work where you know production gets the episode eight days before shooting and they have eight days to prep it and then they’re in it and then they’re shooting at a pace to try and get it done in eight eight days. So it’s like they’re they’re they’re great people but they’re they’re working at a speed and they they only know they only know up to the episode that they have. So you’re there to be the kind of representative of everything and be the eyes and ears and voice of the of the showrunners to the to the degree that you can so that if something looks like that that’s not a choice that we want to make not because it’s a bad choice just because it doesn’t actually feel like the thing that was discussed you step in and be like could we maybe try this you know can we maybe block this slightly differently. When when I look at that blocking it doesn’t tell the story that we need that piece to tell for the future or for what it is or for the the tone is wrong. Usually the director’s your point person or maybe one of the other producers like one of the dedicated kind of on set producers or something like that. It’s it’s gauche to go straight to the actors and be like like let me give you this note. I know there’s a director but like you know give the spirit of it because you should be able to give the spirit of the note in the same way that you would to the director as you would to the actors which is like here’s what I’m trying to here’s what I think is missing. Tell them that and then they’re free to be like. Well I think I’m envisioning it differently in terms of how I’m cutting they’ve spent more time and more energy probably hopefully in sort of envisioning the shots and how things are going to cut together. So you want to trust that these professionals who know what they’re doing so you know tap into that resource. But but yeah it’s an interesting process.

I just think it’s interesting that the production only has eight days to prepare and they only have up until that episode like hesaid. So it’s interesting to know how much they have to put their faith in those pages that are in front of them. And then with the writers show runners being on set. And being able to be kind of the voice behind and in front of those those pages I find it fascinating that it’s such a team.

And to put it in context too a show like Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. I mean they’re really cinematic stories like they’re not. It’s not just a multicam sitcom shoot. You know these shows like they they look like movies our TVs are bigger now and they’re they’re flatter and they’re more beautiful and so they have eight days and meanwhile a movie might have months and months to shoot two hours they have eight days to put together 45 minutes 50 minutes maybe even more. It’s a lot. So yeah the page has to have it. And when we’re talking of Gordon-Smith you know and his contribution to the show he wrote what for me is the best episode of Better Call Saul chicanery which is from season 3 and this one scene nails it.

I’m not crazy. I know he swapped those numbers. I knew it was 1216 one after Magna Carta as if I could ever make such a mistake. Never never. I just I just couldn’t prove it. He covered his tracks. He got that idiot at the copy shop to lie for him.

Mr. McGill please you don’t have.

You think this is something you think this is bad. This this chicanery. He’s done worse. That billboard. Are you telling me that a man just happens to fall like that. No he orchestrated it. Jimmy. He deficated through a sunroof. I saved him. I shouldn’t have I took him into my own firm. What was I thinking. He’ll never change. He’ll never change. Ever since he was 9 always the same couldn’t keep his hands out of the cash drawer but not our Jimmy couldn’t be precious Jimmy. Stealing them blind. And he gets to be a lawyer. What a sick joke. I should have stopped him when I had the chance. Do you have to stop him.

Michael McKeon who started as a comedic actor.

I didn’t know that.

He was in Spinal Tap, Laverne and Shirley.

Oh oh he was.

Yeah yeah. So he’s he comes from comedy.

I knew he looked familiar.

It’s perfect drama you know two-minute monologue he gives and Bob Odenkirk same thing. Humongous comedic actor and writer long before Breaking Bad. Mr. Show which is a wonderfully naughty comedy that was on HBO variety show. And yet these comedic actors show such great dramatic chops.

Like we always say you know there’s comedy in drama but it’s the way that these characters go about each word. You believe every single thing that they say even if it’s something that’s supposed to be funny you know the seriousness because it means something to them you know it’s their character their choice and the reason why they did that they have a back story. They have a reason why this character decided to do it. But especially with Bob. Oh my goodness. With the way that he just so gracefully he’s so subtle in the way he does it.

Bob is an incredible writer and stand up and comedian most of his Emmy nominations to date have been for writing and he’s actually incredibly respectful of our process. He’ll come by once a season and just like have lunch with us. But he never wants to know we never pitch him. He doesn’t want to talk about the show or he just was like he just wants to check in with us and be like hey you guys do what you’re doing and we’ll perform it once in a great while there’ll be some scene where it’ll be like maybe we’ll let you know we’ll let Bob loose for a little we’ll ask we’ll see if he’s ok with just like going going on a run if he’s there but he’s actually better in those circumstances if it’s like here’s the sense of it and then in production like a production meeting or a tone meeting we’ll be like if Bob feels like it let him go. And occasionally he’ll be like hey you know this scene is great. What if we did. I feel like we’re missing a chance to do that kind of riff and it’ll be like OK we’ll try and write something or give him something to work from. I think it also really helps just to know. I think this has helped with a lot of people it helped certainly with Bryan Cranston as well. But it’s like knowing that any range any emotional range is available. Can Bob do comedy. Bob can do comedy. Like Bob is a comic genius. So like if we want to do something funny great and he’s going to be able to kind of land it so we can write to that. If we don’t want to we feel confident with that too. We also know that if we’re like hey this would be funny. And he’s like eh it’s like oh we don’t want to do that. That’s not funny. It’s not it’s it’s not passing the test you know. So I think it does give us some some tools in our kit basically but far more often than not. It’s all really we don’t do a ton of like very very minimal improv or off script it’s like it’s very small and they’re all of the actors are very respectful of that.

I was just thinking how often I watch a show or a movie and it kind of sounds like maybe they improv’d a little do you when you write. Do you often have those times or you think oh maybe if the characters want to take a little liberty.

Well, I think inherently when you’re writing dialogue part of you in the back of your head is always like OK well someone’s got to deliver this. So even if you think it’s the best line ever like it’s got to come out of someone’s mouth in a way that doesn’t seem like. I came up with it or some other writer came up with it but that they just thought of it. So you know kind of going back to what Gordon said about not being precious. I think that’s part of it. It’s like. Have enough confidence in the work you’re doing that if they change it so be it. And you giving them the freedom to let a scene play to let a scene breathe. You watch a Better Call Saul episode. There’s not that many scenes. You know it’s so different than any other show and Gordon Smith described how like it has affected his style as a writer. Being in this environment that says it’s OK let them talk like we don’t have to cut away so fast. That’s cool. But it’s very specific to this show and as Gordon Smith described like it has set him up as a different kind of writer than if he was on a different show besides these two.

I think it’s impacted my writing style more. I think the sort of house style on both shows irrespective of the content it’s slightly different than some shows that I’ve seen. It’s very like. Because there’s a lot of psychological nuance for lack of a better term in how they’re in like what the dramas are about the dramas are so much about like who are these people you know like what are they thinking. So there’s a lot of liberty that I will now take that I’ve learned from this the house style of like not being afraid to throw in a slug line that’s just a purely emotional state that’s like here. This is what they’re thinking so that you know what we should be feeling. So it’s especially because we’re our production is so distant from the writers office. It helps communicate to the people that are reading it blind like what are we supposed to be doing here what is what is the feeling of this scene that you might not get from just the dialogue what’s the like. We’re not going to have a chance to run this thing over and over and like workshop it or hope it hope that it gets there we need to know really what are they kind of what’s the what’s the arc what does it look like. You know hopefully it’s not necessarily being like and they’re feeling this at this point that’s bad writing but like if you can kind of come up with a way to to explain sort of an emotional state or how something impacts what’s landing at a certain point that I think has been really useful in my own writing I’m much less invested or I don’t do a lot of like the sort of like criminal world kind of stuff that or even the legal world that we do on Better Call Saul they’re not things that I usually do on my own but that sort of style is something that I think has been really liberating to just be like oh you know if you need something if you need to call a shot. We call shots all the time. Not even because it’s the sense of in that same way. It’s not like telling the director we need this shot. Sometimes it is but more often it’s like here’s an idea for a way to open this scene. We’ve had a little bit more time and a little bit more luxury to give you a sense of what kind of shot might give us the feeling that we’re looking for for this scene. So we’ll include it and if you know the conversation with the director they’re like yeah do you really need that shot. Oh, we just thought it was a cool shot. Do you have another one? Yeah, I was hoping we could start it this way. Great start it that way. We don’t care like it’s it’s but it’s a baseline to start a discussion of like. Here are some ways to see this or like here’s a shot that might be cool and obviously there’s a series of meetings that we have where you talk to them and then can have those discussions so so that’s helpful.

What’s unique about TV versus film is like film the director kind of drives the boat like we all know Michael Bay did all those transformers but can you tell me who wrote them.

Yeah, that’s true.

In the case of TV it’s very different though because the directors are almost like hired guns. And part of the skill of being a TV director is you gotta be able to come in and that crew’s work together and the writers have worked together. You’re the new kid.


And yet you’re the one calling the shots.

It’s interesting because you hear in class about how you know don’t write. For the director, you know.

Yeah, don’t direct from the page.

That’s right. That’s right. You should be telling that part your the writer.

I’ve told so many students no no don’t over direct it and then he just said it’s OK to direct it a little.

It’s ok. A little bit of that. It was interesting just to know that they have that ability to do so and they take advantage of it when they can.

Well like they have such great cinematic quality in that show so clearly they’re getting really good directors so they’re both elevating each other you know. And it’s funny all this talk of Saul it’s like. OK. When is the new season. Do they know where they’re going. You know all these questions.

We’ve waited long enough.

It’s that question of then for Gordon Smith. Do they have a whole roadmap of where this show’s going to end or not. And his answer was a little surprising.

Vague a little vague too they know where they want to go. But again taking the time to find out these beats it’s exciting to hear him talk about it.

Process of discovery in that writer’s room.

We kind of make it up all along. We have some hopes. We have some stuff that we’re like oh we can do this. This would fit in really nicely. I have a couple of things that I really hope we get to. But by and large we haven’t nailed that down. It’s like building the railroad and you kind of want to make sure all of the spikes like that that you’re not building like this that they’re all going to go kind of connect at the right points. So I think before we can kind of be like OK we’re definitely going to land here we want to make sure that we’re kind of heading in the right direction but we definitely love those and we want to make sure that we pay off the right now. The character of Jimmy McGill and the character of Saul Goodman they’re not the same person they really feel like different people to to us when we talk about them and so we’re like OK how do you get this guy. This guy to this guy OK we’re a little closer. OK we’re a little closer we’re a little closer. So we want to make sure that all of those points along the line match up.

What an incredible opportunity for an actor.

I’m Jekyl right now but soon I get to be. Hyde.


Have you made it to the end of this current season.

I have not. I’m well on my way.

I’m so tempted just to spoil it now just just so you all no suffice it to say by the end of this season. The road from Jimmy to Saul is much further along and what’s really interesting what they do with Mike because Mike’s a different Mike in Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. So if at this point you guys have not received any new reasons to watch Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul then I guess we really haven’t done our job.

We failed.

We failed you miserably. But if nothing else you definitely got a reason to really appreciate Gordon Smith.


Humble dude. You know.

Humble dude, I loved listening to him talk too.

Emmy winner and he’s talking just just like regular folk.

Like us folk.

Yeah us back home folk. It was so great hearing him speak and I know the students got a lot out of it. I hope all of you guys listening did too. So thank you for sticking with us as we geeked out.

A little bit. We held it at bay.

As much as we could. As much as right like the dam can only hold back so much water here. But thanks to all of you guys for listening.

Thank you so much for listening.

That’s Aerial Segard.

And that is Eric Conner. And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by.

Was it David O’Leary. It was David O’Leary by the way check out his TV show Project Blue Book on the History Channel. Tuesday nights.

To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy.

This episode was edited and mixed the whole show by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and me.

Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible.

To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen.

See you next time.


Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy.

And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum. And in this episode we bring you the director who flung a cow through the air in Twister.

And trapped Keanu on a speeding bus. The one and only Jan De Bont.

The Lions did run over the camera and the actors were screaming and yelling panicking and of course one of the Lions came back towards the hole in which I was hiding. A bit me in my head. And. I thought this is the end of my life.

Before directing. He was a cinematographer for dozens of amazing films including Basic Instinct die hard and the Hunt for Red October.

Which was executive produced by Jerry Sherlock who was the founder of New York Film Academy.

I didn’t know that.

Now. You do.

Well that makes sense because just like our filmmaking students Mr. De Bont’s own film education involved taking courses in all the different aspects of the industry.

Let me tell you a little bit of when I went to film school at Holland film academy they did exactly the same thing. So I you know you had to learn to be an actor cameraman a editor and record sound those four things. So I was completely not interested in acting of course but I had to and and that’s probably one of the best things that happened to me because standing in front of the camera is so difficult and you’re so dependent of what the person the director tells you you need so much information so if you understand that. Then later as a director you kind of feel the need what you know what the actors has to go through and what the all the problems they go through. I think it’s extremely important and I recently saw some of the little movies we did in Holland in the late 60s a long time ago and I remember seeing myself there was in the film you see and there was a movie in which I had to be. A model for underwear and I didn’t even remember that and certainly it wasn’t a big screen. I was a little embarrassing I have to say but I did learn so much of that and and I think it’s like you know it is try to stand in front of a camera try to say some lines try to just walk in a room and walk out in a natural way. It’s very hard very very hard. So you really have to understand what acting is all about. Then of course apart from the storyline of the character et cetera et cetera it is really important that you deal with actors and you can only do that if you if you kind of. Forced to do it a little bit. I mean stand in front of a camera. It’s really important. Even your own make your own little movie and try to portray something you find out how difficult it is.

Mr. De Bont went on to a successful career in Europe as a director of photography. But in order to make the true blockbuster films. He had to move to America.

I started making movies when I was 14 years old. I made little wedding. Film for friends and family. I had a small 8 millimeter camera and from there I went up to high school and I started a film club in high school. But. What I really wanted after working in Holland for a long time I worked like did a lot of movies in Europe and in Germany is I wanted to go to Hollywood. I really felt like I could have kept working in Holland for a long time in Germany and Belgium and England but I would never gotten to those movies the bigger movies that I really wanted to do. And I one of my favorite movies as Bridge on the River Kwai. I want to do one time a movie like that. Something like really with spectacular events and so I knew I had to do it one time. It’s just like the hardest part is when do you make the decision in your life. Because when you move from Europe where wherever you come it doesn’t really matter. You basically have to start all over again. You might as well forget that you’ve done all those movies because people forget very quickly here. So they know you. They’ve seen maybe some of your movies for for a couple of months and then they’re waiting for what you’re gonna do here. So it’s very important that you make the choice whatever you do first the United States make a right choice. Don’t fall into a trap of doing something that that is a bad movie or is really nobody’s going to see because you then you get very quickly into the wrong. It’s a wrong entrance into this movie business try to find something that has a little more value more class a little even if just but but don’t be afraid to take a small job. It doesn’t matter it doesn’t have to be big job right away but really do not make a wrong choice because it’s like I’ve seen many other people come from Europe. They always ask advice and they always want to go right into the big movie. Well that’s not going to happen you know they just. It’s rarely happened so they they really want you to prove that you first of all want to be here number one and secondly that you really have talent. But what does help is when you make your own little movies I would recommend to anybody is make your own little movies and make showcases for yourself. And really it’s so important because that that that they trust they trust that much more than this movie. The stuff you did in any other country. So that’s. That’s one of the most important lessons so I can give you.

One of Mr. De Bont’s first films in the U.S. almost killed him. Literally it’s the cult flick roar which is directed by Noel Marshall and start his wife Tippi Hedren daughter Melanie Griffith and several all too close all too real lions.

It’s been considered the most dangerous film in history. No animals were harmed but the 70 crew members that weren’t so lucky it got bad.

The very first movie I did in L.A. It was a movie called roar. It was with like 20 lions and tigers and an elephant. God knows how many animals it was with Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith and they said it will take about five months. I said five months. I have five weeks I expected it to be. And of course that was like a movie that became like a the disaster movie of all times meaning that after eight months the set burned down and animals escaped. So a lot of them escaped so they had to be the whole crew was helping to catch all the lions and tigers which was not fun let me tell you that it’s really scary especially with tigers. You see the eyes light up a little bit. You have to get out of there as soon as you can. And then the last thing happened to me on the same movie and this was my welcome to Los Angeles is that we did a scene. There’s a big lake in the set Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith were on the boat. They were chased by the lions and tigers on the shore. And I was filming several cameras I had the scene dug a hole in the ground and the lions would be coming over the camera and then I would pan to the actors on the boat right nextdoor in the rowboat. Of course everything went well. I mean to a degree it went well the Lions did run over the camera and the actors were screaming and yelling panicking. And of course one of the Lions came back towards the hole in which I was hiding and bit me in my head and I thought this is the end of my life you know because I know it was really dangerous because I couldn’t see anything anymore because my skin was totally. I was scalped basically it was hanging in front of my face and I knew it was very soft and bloody. My assistant completely fainted right away and everybody else was listening to to Melanie and Tippi screaming on the boat because that was the scene that was the end. So and then I started to screaming but nobody paid any attention to me for at least a minute and I knew I learned one thing is that when you work with lions and tigers make yourself as big as possible get up put your hands up any as high as you can and make as much sound as you can. But the thing is because I couldn’t see anything. I just hope that I didn’t go towards the other lions. And finally one of the trainers I saw I was you know they were all watching. It was their fault that they were not watching me and they got the animals away. But I was in the hospital for a really long time. I had two hundred thirty six stitches in my head. So that was my welcome to L.A. so it’s not that easy.

Fortunately Mr. De Bont’s other projects as a cinematographer proved to be far less dangerous though he did have to brave the difficult terrain of union regulations.

Another thing is that. I was used to operate the camera and as a DP That’s very European thing and to me this is extremely important because I cannot possibly imagine if like a photographer ask somebody else. Okay you make the picture I just tell you how to do it. So I feel like you have to connect with the actor. And I always you know like I said earlier I always talk to the actors. So I get to know and I get to know a little bit how they how they are what they’re thinking of what they like to do and trying to kind of indirectly a little co-direct the movie to some degree. And that was like impossible. So I remember that. I think it was on maybe Hunt for Red October that the unions start suing me for this that I could not do it anymore. I needed to hire operators et cetera et cetera. And that movie I don’t know if you have seen it. But it’s very small sats and moving platforms. There was just no space for an operator because there was just I mean was just too small. So I did everything handheld and so I could basically help to to the directors themselves to find ways to visualize it. So the studios really they were really behind me. They were saying listen this. They totally got it that I had to do it and they basically helped pay for my lawyers at the time and we won the lawsuit. I mean but what happened the result was that basically as long as we hired operators multiple operators if they would be there and they would be doing other stuff it would be okay. So even if if I let’s say there only would be one camera and I would only operate that one camera then there still had to be another person there. If he sat on the chair all day long. That was fine too as long as he got paid. And then of course the crews like that the biggest difference is like two more things that the size of the crews in Holland and Europe you have very small crews and suddenly here you have a crew of before you know it is 90 people and on bigger movies very quickly you know like 150 or more. And that was like a big difference for me because I had to really we learned how to deal with so many people.

Much of Jan De Bont’s transition to American filmmaking involved learning how to manage hundreds of people when he was used to just dealing with dozens.

There’s a couple of movies that I’ve done over during my lifetime and it’s like. One of them was Turkish Delight is a movie that I always be very close. It’s a Dutch movie I think it was nominated for Best Foreign Film Academy. It’s based on a book from a Dutch writer and I never realized how much I enjoyed filmmaking as on that movie. I mean we had a film crew it was maybe a total of 12 people 13 Max and we became like a unit that work together day and night including the actors. We were always together for I think seven weeks and that kind of created it’s such an incredible. You know we always we all were on the same line. We all knew exactly what the stakes were. We all knew exactly what to do and what the story was and everybody could talk to everybody so it wasn’t like the director has to only say the final word. No anybody had an idea he could you know he could say it and if it was any good we would do it now and that is was such an amazing thing and then those things that I learned in Holland I never was able to achieve completely here because everything is very separated here. Like you have so many professions and and you know if you go from a crew from 12 to a crew of 200 that’s a big difference and director is more of a manager of a managerial position in which you have to know everything about everybody and everything and everything about all the technical parts of filmmaking. You know not only the directing part but you have to know about sound. You have to know about costume. You have to know about cleaning how long it takes to clean somebody’s costume it’s ordinary simple things set design lights and it’s an endless list visual effects special effects. What type of gasoline to use for bombs. What kind of it is it just amazing the things you would never ever thought about having to learn about moviemaking but as a director you have to I mean at least for the type of movies I have been involved in. But coming back to that. Is there a movie. I mean there’s a couple ones that I really like I like black rain. It’s one of my favorite movies. I still like very much. I do like speed still because it was like. Also that was the closest to whatever I had done in Holland a small crew everybody worked for very little money and they only did it once and that was what I told them that after this next movie everybody’s gonna get paid their real fee. And that was so great because everybody had also this feeling like you know this is one group of people making one movie together. It wasn’t like one person at the top and then everybody just has to work their asses off. It was really a pretty great experience.

After working with director John McTiernan on the hunt for Red October the two teamed up for the greatest Christmas movie ever. Die Hard.

He’s an easy guy to like and a hard man to kill Bruce Willis Die Hard.

Got invited to the Christmas party by mistake. Who knew.

It’s also a pretty awesome action flick and setting up for a helicopter approach on Nakatomi Plaza proved to be harder than anything John McClane went through.

Especially when the crew only had one night to pull it off.

One night.

One night.

Prepping is incredibly important for instance the scenes in die hard where they. The big building the helicopters fly around that building. We only had one night to film that sequence in I think I used 28 cameras or so because there were scenes on the ground in the streets on the rooftop it had to be lit completely there were four city blocks that had to be lit in Century City and they only give us one permit to fly over it once so that had to be extremely well prepared. You know I had there was tons of lighting but they were all kind of hidden. So that’s number one. Where how to light to set how many generators. I think there were like 14 generators all hidden by buildings and the sets inside the building had to be lit. And on the rooftop there was a big scene on the rooftop all at the same time. So you have to find ways and there’s a lot of prepping. It’s like how do you like to scene like that where you don’t want to see the movie lights and they use a lot of fluorescents. So how can you keep everything out of frame. How can you not see the film camera. The film helicopter for all the other cameras on the ground so it’s a massive massive preparation and that is something that first of all you don’t do that very often in Europe and it is something that you really have to learn because the whole crew depends on you on the DP mostly not so much on the director because quite often they sit in the trailer because it’s too complex for them because it’s really it’s too many too many cameras too many things. And again you have to work with so many people and you have like at one point I had about four sets of walkie talkies talking to on top of the building around the building two blocks back and they all had to run at this at certain times at different speeds. And so it was it was like probably the the most complex thing I’ve ever done but it was kind of fun to do it as well.

Mr. De Bont’s preparation extends to how he approaches each shot to ensure that even the most seemingly mundane moment exhibits visual tension.

What is very important to me is that there’s intention in the picture and in the image is there’s no tension in the picture. And to me I do something wrong because I feel that there’s no tension there’s nobody would be very interested in looking at it. And I always try to manipulate to a degree the image or the image quality to make people look at the screen. And when I started making my first movie which was in the 60s I started doing hand-held almost exclusively and I thought at least it felt like it was a little bit like a documentary feel to it. But it felt like audiences were looking they were like a little bit more participating in the movie it was somebody point of view you kind of were forced to really focus on what I wanted you to see. So that’s really important thing you can learn actually. You know it’s like what is important. If you see an actor do you put an actor in the middle of the frame. Do you see him on the left or right. Do you see him from behind. Is his face lit up. Do you is he in the dark. I mean there’s a million million different ways you can make it interesting. Are you moving away to the actor or or toward him or is it is kind of exciting to really you know find the right solution for every particular scene. But you know the one mistake is is to make it just all similar. I hate it when when movies have an and when it’s too beautiful I don’t like when things are too beautiful because then I feel like I’m distracted from the image. I lose a little bit the not only the intention but I cannot look at the actors anymore because if there’s beautiful skies and beautiful this and long lens shots that to me is that completely distracting. I’d much rather have a camera right in a person’s face. And I loved as a cameraman I remember I loved to talk to the actors non-stop. I whisper and they could see me and they did. And the director never saw that because the director’s behind me. And that was great. They loved it because quite often they don’t know what to do. So I was trying to guide them. I sometimes I push them away with a camera so that they have to move so that there is a connection between between between the the actor and the screen.

This same attention to detail helped make the steamy thriller Basic Instinct look like it was a modern Hitchcock film.

Well that is if Hitchcock went after a really hard R rating.

For that movie I really had to come up with an idea a little bit like a lot of those inspiration comes from Hitchcock movie so I mean there’s a lot of similar locations even on the West Coast south of San Francisco. Obviously I’m a big you know I love his movies and some of them were absolutely brilliant and you can watch him over and over again and I think this movie has a visual style that is partially modern and partly from the 50s 60s. It’s I don’t know how you get to do these ideas I just it’s like you read the script. And you have to the film has to come together in your mind for us. I mean when I start doing a movie you have to see the movie in your head before you start doing it. You cannot you know figure out we’ll do this then we’ll figure out how. It doesn’t work. You have to see the whole movie in your head before and if once you have that then then the rest is relatively easy.

After DPing dozens of films on demand was ready to make the jump into directing.

In other words his career began to pick up speed. Eh.


There’s a bomb on a bus once the bus goes 50 miles an hour. The bomb is armed. If it drops below 50. It blows up. What do you do. What do you do.

Now. He’s the only solution. Keanu Reeves. Dennis Hopper. Sandra Bullock. Speed. Get ready for rush hour.

Pitching himself as a director turned out to be less work than expected thanks to his extensive resume but getting the studio to to coin the phrase board the bus.


Was another story.

The studios it’s just a matter of like I already knew the studios now because I worked on a lot of bigger movies it just was the transition from DP to to directing was a little hard but they knew that I did for instance I always did all the second unit. One of these big action scenes I I kind of always the director’s let me do it because it was much easier for them. And so the studios knew I did that. So they knew I could handle those big scenes. So basically I found this script speed that was at Paramount and they you know and they saw they they they hated the script because who in the hell ever wants to see a movie about a bus and they’re only going 50 miles an hour how boring and but I really could see the potential in that. And I went to it was that same script to Fox and Peter Chernin who was at that time President. And I told him my ideas and and it took 45 minutes to convince him. And that’s pure luck. I mean that doesn’t normally it doesn’t it takes a lot longer months and years sometimes. But that was the that was my first experience and it was like. And of course you know the result was extremely you know good for them because they made a fortune on that movie.

Even though it was his first time directing. Mr. De Bont Already knew one very important lesson in Hollywood make your boss happy.

You know the film business is like you know people but you don’t see them all the time because everybody’s always working they’re gone. So the first relationships always the most important because that’s what people remember. So whoever you deal with on your first project you know it’s it’s gonna be an important relationship because they will remember you even if you don’t work with them for 10 20 years they will remember you. And also they are the ones who will tell other people what they think of you and that’s little bit how this business works a little bit you always call other people what do you think about him. What do you think is he okay. Is he slow is he fast. Is he able to work with the studio. Is he cause studios like you know every director wants to make his own movie wants to have total control in Hollywood. You don’t have total control. You have no control. I mean in some way you have all the control in the world. But only if you know that the final result has to be a movie that works and you’re actually out of your mind if you don’t listen to other people who have some creative input that is that is actually effective. That would make it a better movie. So you have to be very open to other people. I mean unfortunately I think the last decade or so the studios have a little bit too much input you know like they really are starting to direct out of the office a little bit and they are giving you you know they see the dailies is not good do it again. And that is not good. I mean it’s OK if they give advice and say no but they cannot direct a movie from there and that’s a little bit a problem at the moment. I feel with movie making is that there’s too much similarity because it’s like it’s office or making I call it a little bit and they’re kind of especially with younger directors. They take over control very quickly and they take it away from you. And in post-production when the editing is and you think you made your movie then they take over and they start re-editing your movie and it happens so many times. The reason I say all this is must easier to cooperate with them a little bit and pretend at least that you’re agreeing with them. You’ll try to do what they suggest. That’s much better than to just fight them. You cannot fight doesn’t really work.

Similar to how he preferred to be his own cameraman Mr. De Bont wanted his actors to do their own stunts even if that meant putting his own life on the line to get Keanu Reeves on board.

I think you know because I work with so many other directors as a DP and I worked you know on many different type of movie thank god. So I’ve been aware of what is kind of needed for actors to know how. And I always find the most difficult part is that actors are always the most insecure when it’s a big scene is big action scene because they feel not familiar with it they don’t know what to do they don’t have to run and not trip. They don’t know what to say because it’s never written dialogue for them. And that is so difficult and they always think everything is dangerous. I mean and that is of course the most important part of a director is to make them feel safe. And again it’s like it has not little to do with acting but it has to do with like if you don’t feel safe they cannot act. So quite often I try to do the stunts for them. I’m relatively clumsy and not really good in jumping. But I felt if I can do that they could do it too they should be able to do it. So there was many ways like for instance on speed like when Keanu jumps from the Jaguar to the bus that looks like a difficult stunt no and he absolutely did not wanted to do it he said no I’m not going to do it. It’s too dangerous and I say okay I’ll do it for you. I had no idea what it was for either. So in reality actually is you know it’s more like a fear was in your heart is that it’s because you see the road passing by very fast and you’re both going at least 50 60 miles depending like what the scene was. So in reality the best thing is not to think about it and just step to the bus no. And when I did it the first time I did step in but forgot to hold on you know. So thank God he wasn’t watching. But because he was he just looked away and I was so happy he didn’t see that because he would have almost fallen out of the bus. And so I had to do it again and this time I did it right. And then of course he he said Okay okay well if you really want it I’ll do it. But I really don’t want to but I’ll do it. And then he finally did it and it looks good. So it’s basically it’s like you have to convince them it’s it’s safe because you really you don’t want to use stunt people. I can’t stand the use of stunt doubles. I mean because I want to really see the actors you know doing that to me if I cannot see an actor’s face in a stunt it’s the whole stunt is meaningless because then anybody can do that. And it’s like become so prefab and it becomes like there’s no emotion. But the moment you see an actor’s face in a scene like that and you know when Sandra drives the bus she actually drives the bus and once she hits some other cars she actually hits another car and you cannot act that you know it’s really hard to really put it in your mind Oh I’m gonna do this I’m gonna react. It’s impossible but the actors if they are at ease and if they feel really great and they feel safe most importantly then you get incredible reactions you know.

After speed. His next film was the tornado chasing action extravaganza twister.

Or as we call it back home in Oklahoma. The greatest most accurate movie ever. Made about tornados.

It’s coming. It’s headed right for us.

It’s already here.

Scientists have been studying tornadoes forever but still nobody knows how a tornado works.

You people are all crazy do you know that.

She’s a beauty.

Jonas Miller he’s a Nightcrawler. He’s in it for the money not the science. He’s got a lot of high tech gadgets. But he’s got no instincts.

Even with three times the budget he had on speed Mr. De Bont still expected his actors not their stunt doubles to be in the thick of the action.

You rehearse a lot and you can only rehearse to some degree because you cannot rehearse like running in the field with debris being thrown at you. The more intimate scenes you have to rehearse and because it had to be the same kind of feeling and tension then. Then the rest of the sequences. So I wanted to make sure that it had this kind of a relatively intense ruggedness to it. But at the same time there was emotion to it. And with Helen it was relatively easy but a lot of the actors was a little harder because they like to do physical things and you know like it was a little difficult for me sometimes to get them to do the quiet sequences because they said I should have run no no you’re not gonna run and you just sit there for but it’s not much different than any other movie it’s just rehearsing. Talk about it. Listen what they have to say. Very important and really let them play it and let them especially let them do it one time. The way they like to do it and and see if there’s anything that you like from it and try to use it because it’s really important that you listen to them and that you really hear what they have to say because ultimately they have to play it no. I Mean they cannot become just like robots and just running from left to right. This really was so important to me that they really understood what it all meant. You know like I really wanted them to drive the cars I didn’t want to have like normally in Hollywood movies you have a big tow car and the actors in the car behind it. They all fake drive here actors they had to drive and that makes it much more real no. It’s like it’s a little bit tricky sometimes like the helicopter shot when and camera starts really high up and then we see the red truck and the camera comes closer closer closer till close up in the car. And that was dangerous because these were the actors driving and the helicopter was at one point like 20 feet away from the car and and he was one of the best pilots in the business and I knew he could do it. And he guaranteed that it would be safe best for the actors there were no matter how I explained it to them how close it would be. They were scared shitless because if you see a helicopter the distance of half this room it’s pretty close especially with the wind blowing blowing but it’s a but but they liked it they were really troopers. And I think after a couple of weeks of shooting everybody was so into into the whole feeling of chasing and roughness there was this pretty. Some of them went sometimes chasing in a weekend in the state next door which we totally told them not to do because we were afraid they would never come back. But it’s but at the same time they got this feeling what it really meant to chase a tornado because it’s it’s really I can recommend it. It’s really cool.

We at the backlot are not responsible if any of you decide to chase a tornado for real.

So don’t blame us but ironically the filmmakers had to chase tornadoes themselves to get the necessary footage.

Bad weather usually shut a film down in Twister good weather caused them even more problems.

The most difficult thing was I don’t know if you noticed or not but we were filming during the season where most tornadoes do happen. And of course the the year we were filming it was a year there was incredible soft summer. And no tornadoes were visible in hundreds of miles. And not only that the skies were always totally blue and so I had to Oh my God how can I possibly make a movie where the skies was always sunny where there’s no wind and so we basically had to come about shooting how are we going to solve this problem and we decide a system with Sky replacement that had to be affordable because we didn’t have any more money because everybody thought the skies would always be dark in Oklahoma which they aren’t. And so we found a system with ILM that could be relatively easy meaning it would take us several days for every shot to replace it. You know we had a second unit team filming skies in all the states around it where the Weather wasn’t so good like Nebraska and tried to replace the sky use that sky and put it in all the images we did in Oklahoma.

These days CGI has become so impressive and routine we almost take it for granted but in the mid 90s using CG to create a natural looking disaster was a new and incredibly complicated process.

Well first of all I did go in a couple of those those storm chase runs have you ever done that. It’s fantastic. It’s really really cool. It’s like there’s nothing more scary and exciting than chasing a tornado in a car especially if the car is a little slow because then you have to really find ways out of it. But I really I got so excited by that because it’s like the force of nature is so amazing. And as I said that’s what I really wanted to get on the screen. It’s like there’s nothing that we can do that’s even close to what nature can do. So I went to meet with so many of the storm chaser guys saw all the footage and hired quite a few of those people because I thought you know they know where we have to go number one of course and we didn’t know that it was gonna be like a sunny shoot. But they were guiding us at least also in what people would do in the car say all the equipment was right and we had we had actually real dopplers with us and that would work but there was nothing to see because there was no tornado in the neighborhood. But but anything that those actors do is relevant to what a real storm chaser would do. So that took a long time to get the cars right because it’s like we needed like five sets of cars basically of each car because they always had to move left and right many cars got damaged and had to be re patched up repainted. So the preproduction was extremely long but most importantly the visual effects in this movie. This was a very beginning of visual effects a little bit and a lot of them had never been done before. So the studio did not let us make the movie until we could prove that actually we could create a tornado in visual effects. And so we had to develop. I mean I was involved in the developing of the particle system that didn’t exist so another thing that a director sometimes has to do but. But that was a kind of exciting because you know it’s the particle system and we figured out had to have at least 12 million particles for it to work. And that means we need this extremely powerful computers to deal with all that information at that time. So ILM and all the supervisor they had to rent supercomputers to be able to store it all. And to put it together I mean the rendering of the shot in the film at the end the big tornado at the very end. That took two days to render just one shot and the whole post-production took very long long time because it’s like first of all we were they told us we cannot move the camera ever you know because otherwise we couldn’t match it. And then when I the first day of shooting I told the guy no no we cannot do that it has to be handheld. It has to be I have to feel this rough quality to it. And they freaked out completely because he had never the tracking shots in those days was extremely difficult very time consuming. So they were forced to design a system that’s a little easier. Still was very slow but at least twice as fast as so. So the whole post-production was like probably twice as long as they had imagined it to be. And also the visual effects special effects on camera which was really fun. I mean like blowing real ice cubes into actors faces and straw and hay and debris. We had this you know like this sequence on the road. We had two gigantic 40 foot trucks we had one camera truck in the middle six camera and then two big trucks with huge ice makers spitting out just ice and aiming it right over the top. It would fall on the actors. I mean that was actually more fun than anything else because I mean. I mean Bill Paxton got one. I mean we tried to make them as small as possible but there was one big clunker in that it hit. Bill Paxton in his head I remember. And you can see it actually in the movie he was bleeding like crazy but he really I said stopped. No no no no. Keep going. And he loved it because it was really cool. It was like a really fantastic thing for him. Experience so nobody experienced like in the back of a pickup truck standing on a hill. It’s pretty cool. So there’s a lot of things we had to practice and endlessly rehearse and sometimes it works and sometimes it don’t. And you have to find other solutions no.

Man he really loves tornadoes.

Seriously. And you might assume that Jan De Bont’s work ethic and his boundary pushing the tornado chasing. Not to mention his extensive background as a cinematographer would make him a really difficult director to DP for.

But in fact the opposite’s true because he started as a DP. He knows what they go through better than anyone.

People always ask me that question because they think Oh my God he’s going to be so critical. And in reality because you have such a clear vision of what you like what you want to see you can you can be extremely precise in telling to the DP What you’re looking for. And most directors have no idea what they want. And so they’re kind of very vague and they hope that you give the right answer. But I was very precise in what I was looking for. And of course you look for people that you know a little bit that you work you know and therefore it was like relative easy. Said this is what I’d like to see. And you think you know you can do that. Are you interested in it first of all. You know what is. One other thing that’s really so important with with as a DP. Director is that you know they always ask me you know I wonder what shooting movies like on Die Hard or lethal weapon any of this movies. It’s like. How much longer. Okay 10 minutes. And of course it’s always 20 or sometimes longer because the sets are sometimes so big and doesn’t work out whatever reason. In this case when he tells me I need 10 minutes or 15 minutes I can see he needs at least 15 minutes or 20 so I’m much more able to defend him against producers say no no he really needs 20 minutes. It’s OK it’s fine so they like most DPs really that the ones I have worked with really. I mean they love it because they finally somebody who defends them you know so it’s good.

If you’re going to battle the elements when making a film it’s good to work for someone who has your back. So we want to thank Jan De Bont for talking with our students.

And thanks to all of you for listening. That’s Eric Conner.

And she is Oklahoma’s own Aerial Segard. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Chris Devane. To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&A’s check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy.

This episode was written by Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden.

And me executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler a special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible.

To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

See you next time.

Hi and welcome to the backlot a discussion with the entertainment industries top talent. I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and in this episode we bring you three extraordinary women from a panel that NYFA recently held about women in animation. Careen Ingle director for Cartoon Network’s Unikitty and Anne Walker Farrell director of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman and Kelly Harper who works as a development exec for Comedy Central.

You do it for yourself. You draw because you love to draw but you can’t undervalue somebody enjoying.

Also I draw because I like to entertain too. It’s like you should only be making a film for yourself. Like that’s a bad.

The Art of Animation has been around since the late 18 hundreds and has been mostly dominated by males. But as for recent years more women have been taking the reins and it all sounds like fun and games. But behind the scenes is a lot of hard work. And just when you think there’s some R&R in sight. Reality kicks in.

Currently I’m on hiatus which is a magical time where I tell myself I get to sleep in and then I don’t. I just finished up directing on season 5 of Bojack Horseman. So thank you. We have one fan.

I think you have many more.

Yes, but I’m coming from Bojack and in August I’m beginning as a director on final space which is a show on streaming on TBS currently and I believe on adult swim as well and I’m going to be directing for them for season 2 with Bojack my directing duties were kind of twofold. I would direct the storyboard phase of productions I’d be in charge of overseeing the storyboard process keeping the episode as a cohesive whole while also you know encouraging our talented board artists to do what they do best and bring everything they can to the table and then for the latter half. I am one of two animation directors and I direct retakes on our scenes that come back from Big Star Studios in Korea and so for final space I’ll be doing the former I’ll be directing storyboards and working you know working with a design team and crafting the preproduction side of a cartoon.

Very awesome.

So, I work on Unikitty over at WB just like down the street and it airs on Cartoon Network. And so I’m a director so I both direct like I have a team of storyboard artists that I direct I’ll do about a fifth or fourth of the episode I’ll do the boards myself like I’ll rewrite chunks of scripts to make everything more cohesive and more affordable and funnier and better and like also I go to voice records and I’ll direct the voice actors and stuff and just a whole big umbrella of stuff is my job on Unikitty. And it’s super fun and I love it very much.

And I work in development so my job is just going out to comedy shows and scouting talent. I work on the live action production side of stuff so I don’t know if that’s I know we were talking about this earlier but I feel like a bit like I can talk more to that but we’re on the development side so I work with writers to get scripts into shooting shape and making sure that their voice is coming across and they’re being their voice is being represented in their own script.

The entertainment business is tough. Everyone comes here with big dreams of being the next big thing. You go to auditions or meetings with your head in the clouds and the more you work the more you hope the next one will be the one. But the rejections you do get can start getting under your skin and it can be easy to think of quitting packing your bag and shipping out. But Miss Walker Farrell reminds us how important it is to stick with it. Even when quitting sounds like the next best thing.

I started out in animation really wanting to tell stories visually and so I got very lucky and I was able to do. A pilot for nickelodeons random cartoons back in 2006 called mind the kitty. And from there. I was very young so while I had a lot of fun making my own cartoon I think if I think it’s you know all of us if we could go back and redo our projects that we did when we were twenty five like you just sort of cringe in shame and wish for a time machine. But I learned a lot from it. So I got into storyboards and. From there I stayed in storyboards and animation largely in Flash productions and I kept boarding and I kept animating and it was fine but I wasn’t advancing at all. And it was frustrating and so I got to the point where in early 2014 I was laid off from a job at bento box. I just finished production in a show called Murder Police which never actually aired. I was frustrated. And so I started I started thinking like oh is this really what I want to do you know is this worth it is the struggle worth it. And Mike Hollingsworth who’s a supervising director on Bojack he sent me a Facebook message and was like I hear you’re unemployed we need a board revisionist come to us. And I said okay sure fine. I was sulky and I so I sat and you know we call the area storyboard Canyon at shadow machine this little hallway. I’m doing my board revisions and I was watching animatics and I hadn’t really seen anything of the show I tell the story I watched the animatic for episode 4 and there’s a montage at the end of 4 that is Diane’s exboyfriend Wayne kind of telling her you think that you’re all bright and cheerful but you’re pardon my language you’re a piece of s**t like the rest of us. And you’re going to go back to being a piece of s**t and it was so dark and weird and smart. I was just blown away. And so I realized oh my god I need to I want to be involved with a show. This is an amazing show. And so I worked with Mike with my friend Amy Winfree who was one of the directors she’s this amazing talented filmmaker. She’s been our director one of our directors since season 1 and they both kind of worked with me to advance from a board artist and a lead animator to an assistant director and lead animator to director of boards and animation in season 4 and I’ve been really lucky to work with good people on the show who have kind of guided me and launched me really into what I do now. I feel very lucky.

I think the Rolling Stone said it best. You can’t always get what you want. Careen Ingle learned the hard way that even when you do the hard work that doesn’t mean you get the job but instead you get you need.

Well I guess for me was. So I went to USC and just like you study animation the whole time and then to your senior year you make a thesis and I worked really hard on my thesis. And it was like I want to work in television. So I structured my thesis around like this looks like it would be for TV this is the kind of jokes like this. And like eventually people saw it and then like it took like a year like I was kind of like underemployed not unemployed but underemployed for like a year after I graduated and then I started getting work as a flash animator. So it’s like I worked I did jobs for Titmouse did jobs for Disney Junior stuff all over the place like preschool adult. Like everything in between like that was fun but you know that’s I want to do kind of big picture story stuff so you know it was just taking board tests all the time where you know you get a prompt and it’s like OK like do two minutes of a show you know on the boards. And a lot of times it’s a show that hasn’t come out yet. So it’s like guess guess what we want. And like okay and they’re like I don’t like this. Well I did so. You’re a fool and eventually got a job on Peabody and Sherman at the Peabody Sherman show at DreamWorks. Don’t confuse it with the movie. Like everyone on Netflix does. And I was there for two years and that was great but it was like You know I was a board artist and I had a lot of fun. It was a board driven show which meant like instead of getting like a script for everything was planned out you just got an outline with maybe like 10 percent of the dialogue on it and you filled in the rest. So like basically I was a writer and an artist on that show and you know I kept telling them it’s like when a position is open you know because the show ended after four seasons or two. I want to direct I want more responsibility and DreamWorks is like yeah maybe. And then the show it and they just like let me go and I’m like put me on another show and they’re like nobody gets it. Like I’d invite people to like my pitches like for the other shows that really like looking to staff up and like I invited them all to this one pitch where the episode was about they went back to England 1800’s and they had to find John the ripper who farted on everything. I’m like so if you have a spot on your show for me. And they were all like. And nobody ever talked to me like well if you don’t want this. This is the best work I’ve ever done. I don’t want to work for you. So like DreamWorks made no effort to try and keep me even though like I really wanted to work for them and you know like I was trying to show initiative and stuff and they were just like. And then like you know it was like OK well I’ll take more board tests. Basically took a summer off and then like WB was like hey we need people you wanna take a test. And I was like Yeah. So I got a test for Unikitty did that and it only took like two days. You usually have a week to do it. But it was just so easy. It’s like I know what this is going to look like and then like two days later I get a call from DreamWorks. Like saying like OK we want you to come on a Rocky and Bullwinkle after like them saying For the longest time we don’t know if we’re gonna hire you or not. We don’t know if we want you even though you worked with all the same people like on the show and I was like okay cool yeah. And then I get a call from my reps like later and they’re like Oh Careen did you hear the good news and I’m like oh yeah that I’m going back to DreamWorks and they’re like What are you talking about. No WB wants you you know on Unikitty. I was like oh oh it’s like cool two people want me and then they’re like here’s the dollar amounts. And it was like oh DreamWorks wasn’t paying me fairly you know. So there was a back and forth and DreamWorks was like OK how about we pay you four hundred dollars less a week. I’m like no you know with a dollar amount. You can’t. That’s not how negotiations work. So it was I went from a company that didn’t appreciate me at all to like WB where it’s I get there. I’m just working they’re like you want to be a director I’m like I didn’t even have to ask thanks you want to do development. I’m like yeah sounds fun you know. So it’s you know not every company you work for no matter how hard you try it is always going to appreciate the work you do or like see the value in it. And DreamWorks was great when I was there it’s just now that I’ve been unplugged from the Matrix. You know it’s like oh I wasn’t. They were there to exploit me as a new worker. All my bosses and stuff were cool. It’s just the company culture you know with it being a new media company it’s different.

I cannot stress this enough. Paying Attention. Being on time and saying yes to jobs that may not be ideal can really affect where you go in this business. The key is growing and becoming who you want to be by the lessons you learn on the way up. A lot of people come here with the fact. That it’s so cutthroat and they have to beat out everybody else. It’s not like that. There’s so much work on all sides on all platforms to get you where you want to go. You can make it that way but it doesn’t have to be that way. You choose. To. Follow your path and help someone along on the way if you can. And if you like the sound of that. Ms Harper tells us that she too enjoys making dreams come true.

I went to New York University and I graduated right when the economy took. A nose dive. So a lot of jobs are pretty scarce so it’s kind of like take whatever you can get the first job I had out of college was at a company that sells credit card machines. And I worked there for a week and then I got I got a phone call asking if I wanted to come in and interview for a job as like a casting intern. And I was like I’ll take it. And they’re like no interview it’s like no I’ll take it like I’ll do whatever you need me to do. How is it minimum wage. I’ll take it like I’ll figure it out like beans on toast I don’t care. So I took that job at that company and that company was a production company in New York City it did a lot of other live action productions and kind of just bounced around to different projects that they had there which is how I ended up on like cash cab and history detectives which was like great to learn like on Cash Cab I was in the field doing production as a P.A. and on history detectives I was doing archival work so I was like calling small history societies in Oklahoma being like hey I’m trying to find a rare picture of this Indian chief. Can you help me. And then these people like don’t have any digital means so like we can’t scan this photo we can send you the photo was like Don’t send me your historical artifacts. Every job I ever had has taught me how to be scrappy and just like get done what needs to get done. So I kind of like bounced around a little bit at that company. Then from people I met there got a job working at AOL from that job. Since then I had cut my teeth in like digital production got the job at above average which is where I always wanted to end up because I always wanted to work for Broadway video because I always wanted to work for comedy. And like Broadway videos like the name in comedy to me until I then worked at Comedy Central and now that’s the name in comedy for me. But yeah. So now I just moved out to L.A. like I’m five months into my time being in L.A. so I’m learning everything I’m sorry I don’t know what any of the freeways are called I’m sorry if you tell me where’s the five I can’t I am. Good luck.

You know to just put the in front of it. That’s enough.

I heard that that’s just a southern California thing.

It is.

Also that like people are like oh it’s called a freeway not a highway. I’m like what is happening. So then I recently transitioned out of production into development because I realized as a producer a lot of times working with people in development or getting scripts from people in development I’m like this doesn’t really align with like the amount of money we have to make this product amount of time. So I get these scripts and have to go back to the writers and be like your dreams. We can’t make them. And like that’s the worst feeling in the world. And I was like there was definitely a step. I feel like we could have told you that this dream was a little bit or like fixed it and like maybe done it cheap so I was like I really wanted to get in development. And like yeah make people be able to make the thing they want to make the way they want to make it. And I also have like the company be happy like it’s getting made for the dollar amount because that is king. So that’s that was my path.

Nothing worth having comes easy and having a successful career in animation is the same but loving what you do can be the greatest motivator even when those working hours start in the morning and end the following sunrise.

Generally. I’m a morning person so rather than working late I get an early. But. Every production is different so sometimes you know you will be on a production that demands those long hours. It depends on the production it depends on the situation. The important thing is to make sure that you’re getting paid for those long hours. It’s been a situation I’ve been in before where I’ve been putting in my offer a job and not getting paid fairly which which sucks. I think the important part especially of leadership positions like you know supervising directing you’re sort of going into it with the assumption that I’m going to be putting in extra hours to make this good. Like this is my episode and there’s an ownership of it that for me makes those hours easier. And again that’s not to say too that. When I was a board artist it was like these are my boards on the episode like this is something that I am a part of and I want to do my best. And generally as an artist I’m told that I’m pretty fast. I’m speedy which I think helps in that regard. But I know I mean during animation for season 5 of Bojack. My codirector and I there were a lot of issues with the lip sync coming back it was it was funky fresh. And so we ended up having to go we called it lip sync Apocalypse which might have been an overstatement but we were going into lip sync and fixing the lip sync and we were there like we were working weekends. We were working through lunch and you know not working to like 11 12 at night. But like I would get in usually around 10 and I would I would not leave before 730 most nights. And that’s not you know crazy crazy hours but like I’m I’m I’m working that whole time you know. And again it’s an ownership it’s like well this is a problem like we need to fix this. It’s on us to fix this. And I don’t want to pass this down the line I don’t want to shove this off onto my animators it’s like we’ve got to we’ve got to get this done. So there’s long hours but as long as you know you’re compensated fairly and you love what you do. It’s not too bad I daresay.

For me it’s pretty much I work until I’m happy with the product and like sometimes that means I have to work more hours sometimes it means I don’t have to work as many. It’s good for me as a director. I’ve always felt that I work more hours so that my board artists don’t have to overwork themselves because I get paid on call. I get paid for more hours in a day like that’s just the way my job works. But then also it’s like the things that you ‘re going to focus on. I want you to like kick butt on those. So if you need help I’m here to help you. Like I’m here to make sure that you have the support you need and sometimes that means like I’ll be up until 4:00 in the morning. You know and not all the time. You know you have easy weeks and you have hard weeks and it’s just you. If you have too many hard weeks you know you just be like OK what can I do faster. What really really matters or what can I kind of ignore. But you know that’s just how it is sometimes but you know it’s just as long as like for me it’s like am I getting paid. Do I like the work I’m doing. You know like it’s that’s really all I need.

Do I like the work I’m doing is the biggest motivator to being like OK I know this is a 12 hour shoot day which means like an 18 hour like being awake day. But I’ve been very fortunate so like every crew that I’ve ever been on like knock on wood. It definitely you hit a wall at some point in the day. But then like if it’s a crew that you really love there’s always someone who recognizes you’re hitting a wall and is like hey I noticed that you’re kind of tired.

Because there’s always that point of the day where you’ll be at the office really late and somebody will be like are you still here and it’ll either be yeah I’m having a great time I’m having tons of fun. I’m riding this wave as far as I can. And then like other times it’s like oh you’re right. It’s time to bounce like time to go home.

Whatever you do or you dream of doing needs to drive you. It needs to be that voice in your head that gets you up in the morning but just know that voice won’t sound the same for everyone.

For me it’s crafting a good story it’s crafting a story that speaks to me personally. Obviously sometimes if I’m working on a kid show or if I’m working on a show that I don’t connect with sometimes that’s a little harder to find that sort of spark. But when you find a project or a show or you know a movie or whatever that you that you’re working on that just something about it speaks to you and you connect with it and you’re living with these characters in your head and you just see the world so clearly like that. That’s like crack. That’s amazing. It’s you know and that’s I think that’s the magic of Hollywood Hollywood. It’s – it’s you’re – you’re just crafting. Stories that aren’t real but that feel real to you. I think for me that’s what that’s what keeps me hooked.

I get to wake up every day and then drive and work and then draw funny faces and butts all day. And then I talk to another person and I’ll be like make that face funnier. And then it gets animated and then it’s on TV and like kids see it and they’re like hurray hurray we love it and it’s like yeah kids like it adults like it it’s just like oh it made somebody laugh. Cool I’m having a good time.

A thousand percent. When like when people say oh I saw that it was so funny. I’m like Yes that’s all I wanted. Yeah that is the best. It is it’s crack. You feel like a high like no other high when like also like you know the amount of time it goes into like making the thing so when you see it like fully done like the sound mix the color everything’s finished. You’re like my baby yeah it’s a baby you gave birth to this beautiful thing and then like the minute somebody laughs while you’re watching it back you’re like oh my god I’m going to like it’s the best it’s the best.

It’s always there’s a high at the beginning there’s a dip in the middle because then you’ve been with the story for so long. Is this even funny anymore. What is this is this funny. And then like and then it’s on air and then I’m like oh it is funny.

And it’s it’s worse when it’s your own stuff and it’s like a side project like I’ve been doing a web comic for a couple of years and it’s I’ve gotten to that point with it where I’m like What is this. What am I doing. But it’s very that feedback from an audience is so huge and so important. And I’ve had people who have said to me like oh that makes you less of an artist like you have to like no you do it for yourself to draw because you love to draw but you can’t undervalue somebody enjoying your work.

Also it’s like I draw because I like to entertain too. It’s like you should only be making a film for yourself. I’m like that’s a bad film. I can just think it if I want it just just for me why am I going to waste all this time putting it on paper. If I can just sit in a chair and be like. Like that’s it’s for other people.

It’s a good film. I’m a great filmmaker. Well back to work.

My target audience loves it.

Retta Scott who worked for Walt Disney Animation Studios was the first ever credited female animator she worked on the storyboards for Bambi and was on the production side for Fantasia and Dumbo really paving the way for women in animation. And although there is still an imbalance in the field it really has gotten better though it probably won’t come as a complete shock to you when I say it’s still got a far away to go and creating characters that are real and not just based off stereotypes is really something our panel women would like to see more of.

For me and like a lot of people our age it’s like we grow up like all dudes doing cartoons all the time and I remember being like a little kid watching I’m like I feel left out. You know it’s like cool guy cool guy. The fat guy who likes food like that guy. Girl. And I’m like I don’t want to be girl like she’s dumb a girl didn’t write her. I always feel left out. So it was like OK what can we put in this cartoon to make sure nobody feels left out. It’s not like P.C. police it’s just reality police. It’s not hard work you know. Just make sure it’s all types of stuff.

There’s something so powerful in seeing yourself in media and seeing yourself in the stories that you consume. And because I remember this specifically from something Lisa Hanawalt had posted on Instagram about like her old childhood drawings and she had drawn like this like cool cat guy and she’s like yeah I drew him as a dude because all the cool characters that I watched as a kid were dudes and I’m like I did that I have a s****y cat drawing from when I was at 8 and he’s a dude or like you know all the women are sort of overly sexualized.

Yeah well it was they only had one mold of action figure and they had to saave money by having them all fit.

They all need to look like She-Ra.

Kids today are better about it like they don’t seem to care like people bring their kids into the office and we have like a big Unikitty mural and like when there’s a boy or a girl they’re like yes. Unikitty I love her like boys don’t care like they don’t care if it’s a boy or girl they just care if it’s a fun character that they like to watch and it I think it’s always been that way but it was always parents like being like. No no no girls and boys they got to do their thing blue for you and pink for you. And it’s like kids don’t care.

I’ll also say we were in a meeting recently at Comedy Central and they were saying you know Broad City the majority of the demographic that watches that show is guys and like Key and Peele the majority of the people watch that show were white because the majority of our viewership is white males and they’re just going to watch what’s on TV because it’s funny doesn’t have to be like them projected back to them. It can be something that’s really funny and they’re just going to watch it because it’s good jokes so long as you have statistics look science says it’s OK and then you’re like OK fine the math check out great cool.

And the like the female characters now are – they’re characters they’re not just like like you said the girl.

They don’t just like horses.

They can like horses.

It used to only be that they had to like horses or be a horse.

The other the other thing that I noticed sometimes with female characters that bugs me is when they’re they’re like the writer’s afraid to give them any flaws. Like they’re not they’re so good and they’re smart and they win at everything all the time. Like.

You have to be the best if you’re a girl.

Yeah like that’s not I’m not going to be offended if you know a character with my gender is flawed.

It’s true. We are the best.

That for me sort of raises my hackles because it’s like come on we know better at this point.

No one is perfect in real life. So it’s like this girl you saw on TV and you’re not that and you’re like I’m not good enough for anything. Nobody’s ever going to love me or think I’m cool like no they just didn’t write it good. But it’s like really it’s just women and men are so similar you know like people are the same it’s just the way society treats them that like that they maybe reacted to differently. But it’s like were you going to write a boy. OK. Make it a girl like. There you go. You’re done. You did it. You know we don’t act different we’re the same we’re all people we’re more similar than we are different.

This is a great time for women as we push through the barriers and show we are worth more than the stereotypes placed upon us. Now more than ever people all around are witnessing it allowing a shift to happen which paves the way for more women to rise to the occasion.

We’ve always been good at it and people are just figuring it out right now.

I think it’s like an exponential growth thing. Like if you get one person in there who has a different way of thinking about things and then they hire two more people then they hire four more people and it just kind of spreads out from there. That’s why I think maybe the change is happening.

There’s also a culture of men who are incompetent and mediocre getting into positions of power and keeping women who were really good out because they would threaten their own position. Their job It’s just like oh crap they can’t get in or they’ll see that I’m not good. I know I’ll say they’re bad it’s stupid.

Also now too with like internet with digital media there’s just a lot more being made and there’s a lot more opportunity for different viewpoints to be seen and I think like for example if we’re watching a bunch of cartoons where all the main characters are basically male they’re men they’re boys like it’s the girl that creates sort of a cultural norm that I think is sort of being broken out of now that we have you know there’s YouTube and there’s Vimeo and there’s streaming and there’s like so much is being made and there’s so many opportunities for different voices to kind of come onto the scene and say no like this is not how it should be. It needs to change. Like here’s a story I have to tell. Here’s why I want to tell it like listen to me and then you just wave your arms.

The ability to find people like the Internet has helped that. Like it cannot be underestimated that that is a huge reason why things are different because you can just find people now versus like Jon Stewart was telling a story about how he got a lot of flak because everyone’s like you don’t have any female writers on your show but you are a big feminist pro women’s rights kind of guy and he was like This is crazy isn’t this crazy Mark isn’t this crazy John isn’t this Oh I see what happened here. I need to like change. I need to actually do. But it took other people being like hey there is a problem. And I also think the internet was not only a way for people to call out people in a very public forum and like also a way for people to just be like Here’s my work do you like it and everyone’s like oh my god I love it. Like I love your work I want to work with you it’s just like it breaks down that barrier for entry.

Social media can have its flaws and can possibly cause problems from time to time but it’s an excellent way to get your material out there to be discovered. Whether it’s photography directing even if it’s just your acting real. Curating your online identity is one of the best ways of getting noticed. Although leaving out those party pics may be in your best interest.

Oh my god. Get online get online get online.

You don’t have to be like unbelievably famous and popular. You just have to have your work be easy to find and accessible.

Make a SquareSpace site your email your contact information and some samples of your work should be front and center like we shouldn’t have to dig for it. Tumblr can be useful. Honestly I found the most ground promoting my own work on Twitter and social media is strange because it’s half like place where I scream in the woods because the world is on fire and also half where I show off a drawing and in recent months it’s you know as I have met more people online and sort of grown it’s become more of the latter where it’s less of a place that I can rant and rave about things and more that it’s more a professional outlet for me. I’ve encountered some people for whom the line is a little blurred and so it’s like well you have cool art. And then also here’s a rant about how you had a fight with your friend. Like make sure if there’s a place that you’re showing your art. Make sure it’s just art and it’s something that you would show to a boss or to you know a work person.

Yeah also. Yeah like photos of you like partying and stuff. I’m like okay. I see you like to party a lot. I just want to see the work if you can party and do the work like cool. But I don’t need to see it.

It’s yeah it’s tricky too because it is like part of being an artist is your life. Like that’s where you draw your inspiration from but it’s all it’s this fine line of your curating your online identity. A lot. And that in of itself is a challenge. But if you find it intimidating if you don’t want to you know go through the whole social media rigamarole SquareSpace site email at the top clear samples of work. I’ve had luck with that.

It’s just anything you’re going to put on your SquareSpace is just like OK. Then if you have Twitter just get it so no one can steal your name and then just like Here’s a drawing and that’s all you got to do. That’s it.

I would say Instagram is the one where I like find people a lot. Oh yeah I love I love Instagram.

Los Angeles is full of dreamers and it can be a powerful inspiration to be around. Or if you let it it can be extremely intimidating even debilitating at times. Everyone has an idea or a project. They talk about. Sometimes it can feel like everyone is getting somewhere and you’re standing still. But the secret is and lean in close for this because the majority of them won’t admit it. A lot of those very people who do all the talking never finish their projects or worse they never even get started. They don’t actually put in the work. So when asked for some advice for our students. Let’s just say our panel of women gets straight to the point.

Make your. Like just make your stuff.

I was up at JFL just for laughs and like I was on a panel that was talking to some of the creators of family guy and some of the creators of animals on HBO and the guys from the animals team were just saying like don’t think you have to like make your 22 minute like 30. Don’t make your feature length film now like they said they just started by being like we’re gonna animate this joke we’re going to animate a minute of this joke and then like see how that goes. And if you love that. Like okay let’s animate five minutes. And then eventually like you get your whole thing or at bare minimum you have a minute of like this is what my show sounds like this is what my show looks like. Do you like this. And then someone’s like oh yeah. Do you want to do a lot more of that for money. It’s like yeah I do. I want to do that. So like just make your thing and like in reasonable chunks so that you don’t burn out because if you’re like I’m going to make 15 minutes and you get 30 seconds into it and you’re like I hate this then now you’re going to be like then I’m never doing it again it’s like no just like you animate 15 seconds that’s awesome. So like animate 15 more seconds animate 15 more seconds.

Not to mention like if I’m like looking at videos on the internet and I see it’s 15 minutes I don’t want to watch that like make it three.

I’m scrubbing through .

It’s just like yeah if you start something just finish it even if you’re like it’s like I don’t know if I like it anymore it’s like just get it done. Like so people can see it and it’s you know it’s not as good as I want but it’s like that was you had it in your head. Everybody is just happy to see it. You know.

You would be shocked at the number of people who start things and cannot finish them if you can finish a project that sets you head and shoulders above half of your peers at least. And again yeah it will never look as good as you want it to look because you are constantly getting better as an artist as you’re making it you know as a filmmaker as a board artist as a designer whatever you know you’re working on a film for two years. You’re drawing constantly so you’re going to look back at those drawings from a year ago and cringe but I’m watching it as a new viewer. I’m just sucked into the story and I don’t care. So don’t pay attention to the self-doubt goblin it is only there to hurt you. It will bite you.

A little known fact. Being nice and being social goes a long way in this industry because your reputation is everything. There are a million excuses out there to stop you doing. The things you love doing. Most artists fear the very success they crave. Creating a show is no different. And the fear of success can be real. But thinking you can do it all on your own that’s a hindrance all in itself. Because it takes a team. It takes trust communication and it takes total commitment and knowledge of where your show is going. Even past the first episode.

Writing a pilot is great and it’s really hard. What does your show look like in the 17th episode. Like really know what story you’re trying to tell because if I read the pilot and like great write a show and then you’re like oh no no. Get a good grip on what the story is and what the characters are going to be doing. If if that’s what you want to do.

About to say. Also don’t start out thinking that you’re going to have your own show there’s like so many people fresh out of school and they’re like time to have my own show. It’s like you’re going to do a bad job work for somebody else first like learn stuff. Figure out what it is that you really like doing. And then get really good at that. Meet everybody know how all the jobs work even if it’s a job you don’t like doing like if you know how to do everything or if you know what everything like entails it’ll make you better at your job it’ll make you better at working as a team with your co-workers. It’s just good to like learn and talk and communicate. Just like see what everybody’s doing.

Learning how to work on a team is another big piece of advice I would say like it takes a village. Like nobody made a show by themselves. And you need to learn how to like you said like talk to everybody communicate what you’re trying to get done. Understand what they’re trying to get done and like everything is negotiation everything is a collaboration. And also learn how to take notes like if you have friends that you like and trust. Send your stuff to them and have them give you notes on it and try to implement their notes because that is what your job is going to be for the rest of your life is like implementing other notes and feedback.

You’re not going to get it right on the first try. Ever and people like but I worked really hard on this. It’s like not hard enough. Like do it again.

Sometimes it’s not even a matter of hard it’s just experience like you just need to spend that time and you have every now and again lightning strikes. But for the most part the people who get shows have been laboring in obscurity for like a decade. Like you just you haven’t seen them because they’ve been in obscurity and now you see them and it feels like oh god they just come out of nowhere. But it’s true. It’s you put in your time you know you work hard to do your best and be generally kind to people and it grows from there. You’ll get there. It takes time but you’ll get there. And you will run into the same people over and over and over again. So do not be a dick.

Be nice.

Be nice.

I want to think Careen Ingle, Anne Walker Farrell, and Kelly Harper for speaking to our students. I’m Aerial Segard. And this episode was based on the panel moderated by Kelly Williams. To watch the full panel or just see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/newyorkfilmacademy. This episode was written by me edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden. Executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Thanks for listening.


Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you the man who greenlights and develops pretty much all your favorite Netflix shows chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

Most people have no idea what they want to watch when they come on and that’s why a lot of our competitors will say things like well your show will get lost on Netflix. The truth is things get found on netflix at remarkable levels.

Some of you listening to this have HBO. Others may have cut cable entirely. Maybe two of you have Starz but I’ll bet every one of you has Netflix. Or at least the mooch off your parents account. In a relatively brief 20 years. Netflix has grown from a DVD distribution website to one of the world’s biggest TV and movie studios. Under Ted Sarandos and CEO Reed Hastings the company not only changed television but the entire entertainment industry. The one time direct mail distributor now produces feature films. Emmy winning TV shows documentaries comedy specials and practically created binge watching. Thanks in no small part. To a man who didn’t even finish college.

I thought from a very young age that I would be a journalist I was going to. I always thought that was going to be what I did. I didn’t even graduate. I did two years of community college and I had this epiphany that it was not a very good writer and that wasn’t good. So I was probably not going to be a journalist. And I was working part time in these video stores while I was going to school. What was cool about it was the video stores most young people don’t even know what a video store is probably. It’s like being a blacksmith. It’s a job that doesn’t exist anymore but the video stores are empty all day and so all day just watch movies. So I watched every movie we had in the store over and over again. And so it was like a crash course at a film school in one. And it was a thing that kind of got me grounded in the artistic sensibility of film and then the running the business was running a business so it gave me the kind of the business background as well. I went from that distribution I worked for the company that sold the videos to the video stores. Did that for a few years and then I met Reed in 1999 who came up with the idea for Netflix and the rest is history. So Reed was a brilliant software engineer he could write code and he had the idea to do this and knew how to make it work from the system standpoint from building a website that worked and all those kind of things. But really the film business was not his world. He didn’t have relationships with the studios and at the time I had been in this pocket of time when I was running the video stores and working in distribution that the heads of home video had become very important to the studios they were driving all the profits and these were the same people who were selling me movies out of books. You know at one point so I had the relationships where the studios at the time and knew how it worked. When I joined Netflix we were buying all the DVDs back in the early days of Netflix. We used to just mail DVDs around the country and back in those days we’d buy the movies at Best Buy and Wal-Mart and Costco. So basically in that first year that I joined Netflix it was getting direct relationships with the studios and eventually developing revenue share programs and all those kind of things. The beauty of the old DVD business was you didn’t have to have a deal you just had to go buy the disk. And we had everything ever made on DVD including all the HBO movie. So it was a hundred thousand movies on DVD or something.

For years Netflix delivered content on DVDs and Blu rays. But Mr Sarandos and Mr. Hastings foresaw that the future of home distribution was streaming so before the DVD and Blu ray market came to a dead end. They deftly switched lanes.

You know it’s funny meeting Reed in 1999. When the Internet was super expensive and very slow. That first time we met. The conversation was about how Netflix was going to be. Deliver digital content to homes. So he had a very clear vision for this in 1999. And that we never intended. We knew in 2000 DVD was not going to be the permanent format. That something else was going to replace DVD so we knew our business was going to be obsoleted. So by doing that you never really got that attached to that format. So it’s very unusual in business to move from one generation to the next like Greyhound buses you know Greyhound never had an airline Amtrak never got you know got into the plane business. And it’s very unusual to know that to get displaced by the next thing. And we did that we avoided it by knowing that there was going and admitting that there was going to be a next thing. So when we started we said Look the cost of postage because we were mailing DVDs is going up a little bit every year. And the cost of streaming video or downloading video is plummeting and right at that cross point that’s when we start streaming because if we start investing too early no one can watch the programming because it’s too expensive to download and if we do it too late. Someone’s going to beat us to it. So we were actually watching the trajectory of those two things to figure out when to get in. But we had no affinity I think for the disc really was finished it was for the content for the TV shows in the movies that people were watching on it.

After making their name as a leader in distribution Netflix set their sights on creating their own content. Their first original series House of Cards was viewed by most as a massive gamble but according to Ted Sarandos enlisting the show’s talented creators was the safest bet he could hope for.

It sent shock waves through the industry because it broke all the rules to give somebody 26 episodes without a pilot and creative freedom to boot.

Not just somebody. David David Fincher. He’s exacting. I love more than anything somebody who knows what they want and knows what is important and what isn’t and I would say that David never had a a wasted conversation or a wasted argument about anything and during this production and the trick of that thing was when we got the pitch for House of Cards we had three really beautifully written scripts from Beau Willimon who was nominated for an Oscar that year. David Fincher was going to direct first time directing television and Kevin Spacey to star and Robin Wright to star. I mean it’s felt like a no brainer if you’re going to do this you did this one and I was very familiar with the British version having seen the DVD version of it many times. It’s a great series. So it had this great source material a great adaptation great director a great star great scripts. The thing was we’ve never done this before. So when they said do you want to come and hear the pitch. I said no I want to come and pitch David as to why he should do it. In other words I’m saying yes right now but there’s a million reasons he should never do it here we’ve never launched an original anything all of our shows on Netflix of the time were licensed from other networks and reruns. And I saw we got the meeting to go in on Monday morning sat with David and I just said the answer is yes and we’ll give you two seasons with no pilot and no notes. So what you technically could give us 26 hours of your home movies but you have to put your name on it and the bet was that someone who really cared about their brand would really make it great if you gave them the freedom to do that. And that’s what we did.

Hundreds of original properties later. Mr. Sarandos Still chooses his shows the same way looking for the right mix of talent and material. So when the director of Billy Elliot and the writer of Frost/Nixon pitched the Crown Netflix leapt at the opportunity.

Yeah I think the crown came to us Peter Morgan and Stephen Daldry came in for a pitch about a show about the life of the Queen and it would take six seasons of television to do it and that we would and we committed to do the first two out of the gate again other people had been interested but no one was committed enough to give them both seasons. And Peter writes every word of the show and it’s just it’s a I think it’s a remarkable bit of television.

While most studios comb the Creative Universe for intellectual property. Netflix is just as comfortable buying a completely original vision.

There’s 11 or 12 conference rooms that are down here on the first floor. Every day dozens and dozens of pitch meetings take place which are people either with a script or an idea or a bible for a show. Typically for us because we don’t do pilots we look for a show to be very well developed in a pilot script preferably in a Bible. Some attached talent directing talent writing talent acting talent and then it’s evaluated for our teams in a fairly traditional way. Is this a world that people want to spend a lot of time in or are these people that people want to spend a lot of time with. Is it a vision that could be executed and typically that comes from. Have you done it before. Can you can it be repeated. I don’t think it’s important at all. It’s just it is one of those things where a lot of things come from books and remakes and sequels but the things I’ve been most proud of are things like Okja or bright that are completely original worlds and are not based on a book or a spinoff or a remake of anything.

Netflix isn’t afraid of working with newer talent. If they were the world would have been deprived of shows like stranger things and we would have never experienced Eleven’s love of Eggos or the terror of the Demogorgon. Man that would have been a tragedy.

It helps if they’ve done something before right so you could look to something and I don’t mean have had a TV series that’s a very high bar but something like the Duffer brothers when they created stranger things they had made a very low budget film at Warner Brothers that had never been released. So when they gave us this pitch my team was really blown away by the concept. And it was pretty ambitious what they were proposing and the big challenge was well can these young guys who have basically done a couple of episodes of wayward pines you know run a show it’s like being a showrunner is like being a CEO. You know it’s a big first job. So we loved the concept. We loved their take on it. We had some questions as to whether or not we thought they could execute so we got a hold of that movie that they made for Warner Brothers and everyone loved it and loved what they did on very low budget and it was enough.

Mr. Sarandos understands that their audience of over 100 million has a taste much more varied than his own. He also appreciates how deeply we connect to our favorite shows.

The thing I remember is that we don’t program for my taste. We have to program for everybody. So.

And what is your taste.

My taste is all over the board. I like I personally like grounded drama and comedy more than sci fi or. Fantasy. I just have never been a big fan of sci fi and fantasy. Every once in a while I stumble into something I really love. But for the most part you know really grounded drama human stories you know. So what I’m looking for like I said is that. That worldbuilding. Right that I can’t wait to see these people again. I’m 54 years old so I I grew up at a time when television was kind of the center of my world. There were only three networks and three hours of prime time. And you knew what night things were on and you knew what networks they were on and you knew the characters you knew their first and their last names you where they worked. Right. I mean the shows that you grew up on I always tell people about you know all in the family you know they lived on Houser’s street. Knew his wife’s first and last name I knew his cousin Maude. You know so you really were invested in these people on television. And I think what’s happening now is that content is a little bit commoditized in a way that it’s everywhere. It’s like my kids are 21 and 23. They have no idea what night anything’s on any network or how to find anything. It’s a different relationship. So I’m looking for that thing that will. Pull you back and make you say I’m going to spend 13 almost uninterrupted hours with these people.

The unique way Netflix conducts business with Shonda Rhimes Adam Sandler and others. Actually parallels the unusual way audiences watch their shows. So instead of spreading out their salaries over years they pay them in full right up front.

Well mostly there is no back end where we would rather the shows that are on Netflix and the films that are on Netflix be only on Netflix as a reason why people subscribe so we think there’s more value in exclusivity than there is in the aftermarket for the product. So we buy it we figure out with the talent you know what their share of a back end would have been and guarantee it and pay it upfront back end deals meaning that they would get a percentage of the DVD sales. We don’t sell DVDs so there’s no yeah but we yes we do awards bonuses and I’m like yeah it’s meant to be competitive with how it would have gone through any other channel but since we’re not selling DVDs or we’re not in theaters we’re not selling syndication that whatever their share would have been in success. We agree to that number up front.

Though Mr. Sarandos used to oversee pretty much every creative and business decision he now empowers his associates to greenlight the next must see movie or show.

Well on the artistic side the only way that we could do. What we do at the volume that we’re doing it. You know we produce original films television shows you know scripted series documentaries documentary shorts kids shows feature films unscripted television. So we’re producing across every discipline of content creation and I have an amazing team that I trust and I empower so the two people who work for me have absolute Greenlight power meaning they can buy any project in the room. And they don’t have to wait for me. They don’t need my approval and there’s no way that if I created a bottleneck of decision making that we could keep up with that. Secondly I wouldn’t want the programming at Netflix to reflect my taste. I want it to reflect the vast majority of other people’s taste. So you know cause we’re programming for the world. So what I really you know there are shows that I fall in love with that I champion. There are some that I say you know give them a second listen. I think you might have missed something but for the most part it’s an amazing team we’ve built and there are shows today on Netflix that I don’t see until I watch it on Netflix with you. And that’s a good place to be in terms of being able to let things go so that you can move fast. To me I think it’s about necessity. So like when we said that we were not going to give David Fincher notes it was perfect. I had nobody to give him notes I had no staff and I think right now if I had to watch everything that was on Netflix there’s not there’s literally not enough hours in the day anymore to watch every episode or every cut or to read every draft. Now in the early days were doing. First year we did House of Cards Orange Is The New Black Arrested Development and a show called Hemlock Grove and Lilyhammer. And watched every cut read every draft went to every production meeting visited every set and you know obvious you can’t do that today.

Netflix has also resuscitated a number of beloved properties from other networks. Mystery Science Theater full house and even the movie wet hot american summer all returned to the screen thanks to Mr. Sarandos and company. But perhaps most deservedly the legendary Bluth family from Arrested Development got a long overdue reunion.

I don’t have time for your magic tricks.

Illusions dad You don’t have time for my illusions.

What is wrong with you.

These are my awards mother. From Army.

There are dozens of us. Dozens.

I’m a monster.

Why does everybody think that I’m scared of girls.

Because you’re a chicken you’re a chicken.

Michael and women.

That’s what I was just telling him.

Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken.

Arrested Development. I think is you know when something fails and people try to make you feel good and they go it’s ahead of its time and it’s usually a lie. But in Arrested Development’s case it was 100 percent true. What I mean by that is the year that it got cancelled was the first year we started streaming on Netflix and because it had only made it through a couple of years of seasons it didn’t have enough seasons to go into syndication. So Fox licensed it to us. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t have if it had been in syndication and because it was on Netflix this whole new generation of people started watching it and the show. The problem with the show in terms of mass appeal is that and I say problem it’s a very wonderful problem to have but it’s so dense with jokes and storyline and character that for a 30 minute sitcom with commercials they were moving so fast. And sometimes what Mitch Hurwitz the creator would do is he’d set up a joke in episode 2 and the punchline would be in episode 7. And in network television when you’re watching a week in a week in a week you lose the audience half the audience didn’t hear the setup. So with Netflix you watch the whole thing and it’s a piece of art like you’d never seen before. And the fan base actually got bigger and more passionate for that show five years later when we started doing originals. So I had seen that behavior on Netflix had my own kids like have you seen the show called Arrested Development like it’s like it’s a brand new thing. And so I met Ron Howard at a party and just told him about how I think the show could come back and it could come back on Netflix and he introduced me to Mitch Hurwitz and we had a conference call in a room and Mitch actually put a baseball cap on his on the speakerphone because Ron wasn’t there. So you know it felt like Ron was in the room. But then we said yes and we made the plan in the room.

The extended plant and payoff of Arrested Development was perfectly suited for Netflix. Though their method of releasing an entire season all at once was initially less of an aesthetic choice and more of a practical one.

So prior to house of cards we got everything all at once because we were a year behind. So the season would run they would deliver us all the episodes we’d put them all up. So everything we had was all at once. So when it came down to this we thought. Well we didn’t really even think about how we’re going to be releasing it till a few months before and somebody said to me like well how are we going to do this. We could do one a week we can do four a month and we can do all the different things. And I thought well everything else on Netflix we have thousands of things to watch on Netflix. We’re going have one thing that you watch once a week. It just didn’t seem like it made any sense. So it really wasn’t a big strategy to change television it was a practical decision and it turned out to be the thing that differentiated us from everybody else. I think people started bingeing television shows on Netflix and DVD days because you can get the DVD in the mail there’d be four episodes on the desk. And what we noticed was that those disk would get turned faster than a movie because people would like burn through a season of a show and you know there are two or three discs they’d have out. And that’s how I watched The Sopranos in the box sets. And I remember getting to that last disc and feeling I got to wait another year. So it was the same thing.

Despite the proliferation of digital streaming there remains one element from the analog days of home video that is alive and well. Browsing used to be we would walk up and down the aisles of blockbuster all night.

Blockbuster Video. Wow what a difference.

Trying To find one title. Everyone agreed on. And now we can scroll through seemingly endless pages of choices. To find that one perfect title.

The truth is things get found on Netflix at remarkable levels. About a third of the most popular shows on television are on Netflix. Because this happens so there’s a movie kissing booth.

For me there was nothing more important than following the rules But in life. You can either follow the rules. Or follow your heart.

I presented to 500 agents over two days from four different agencies you know five 500 entertainment professionals and less than a dozen of them had ever heard of the movie and yet it was one of the most popular movies in the world at that time meaning that more people watched kissing booth on Netflix than saw Solo in the movie theater. You know what I mean. So you look at that and say but that audience all new solo because it’s a star wars movie. But there’s a whole culture of people who are talking about and seeing and watching and tweeting and telling their friends about movies that grow to these enormous audiences and it’s shocking for people that it’s happening you say so well. There’s a movie that tens of millions of people found on netflix in a sea of other great things to watch. But these are you know studios don’t make romantic comedies anymore. They find them very hard to sell. Just go with it the Adam Sandler and we’re shooting another one right now with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler right now called Murder Mystery shooting in Montreal and then Italy next week. And I don’t know why that something. I think what happens is buyers have a conventional wisdom about something and just decide it’s true. And then it becomes true. So like romantic comedies don’t work they don’t travel well that’s not true. But somebody said that so they stopped making romantic comedies. Adam Sandler is a great example of that where they’d say oh Adam Sandler movies don’t travel so they don’t open them. Therefore he becomes domestic. And we have a big global audience where when Adam a couple of years ago Adam went on vacation to Italy and I said you’re have a terrible time in Capri. It’s a tiny little place and you’re going to get mobbed for selfies all day. And he said no my movies never play in Italy. People don’t even know me there. And what happens since last time he was in Italy is his movies came on Netflix and he was enormously he got mobbed. He had a horrible time. So that’s what’s different. I think a great example of the bias of buyers influencing what people get to watch. Last year at Sundance there were two movies about rappers Patti Cake$ which was the biggest buy at Sundance that year.

Introducing miss Patricia Dombrowski aka Patti Cake$ aka Killa P.

And Roxanne Roxanne which was an amazing movie about Roxanne Shanté one of the early New York rappers.

Do you know how old she is she’s 16.

Do you want your daughter to be happy or something you want her to be miserable just like you.

You a naster mother.

And I will tell you the frenzy around Patti Cake$ that everyone has was going to go buy it. And they said we’re going to buy one rap movie the rap movie with the white girl in it. Not the real rap movie and that movie went unsold until Netflix came in and picked up Roxanne Roxanne and almost ten million people have watchd Roxanne Roxanne on Netflix. It’s a great success story and Patti Cake$ came out and did less than a million dollars in the box office.

Netflix may have brought movies and shows of all shapes and sizes to a massive audience. But even Ted Sarandos the company’s chief content officer was unable to save one of his personal favorites.

If you want to give an insight into my taste there’s a show that did. Unfortunately we only did two seasons and it didn’t do that well. But Lady Dynamite I think is one of the better comedies on television that we did. We just finished the it finished it’s second season last year. Maria Bamford it’s just a really fun. Quirky envelope pushing comedy that I’m just really proud of.

I’m a 45 year old woman who’s clearly sun damaged. My skin is getting softer yet my bones are jutting out so I’m half soft half sharp. And I have a show. What a great late in life opportunity.

That’s closest to my taste. I think I mean it’s a hard thing because they feel a bit like your children you can’t pick a favorite kid. And I think sometimes the experiences are not as good as the projects and the other way around where it’s a really grueling shoot as you know. And then suddenly turns out to be amazing. So that’s the harder one to pick. I think I really liked the discoveries you know like things like end of the f**king world this year that no one saw coming and they changed everything. I think in terms of you’ve got a cast that was barely known. You’ve got a first time writer first time showrunner and had no reverence for the format at all. One of the episodes is only 17 minutes long and just like you watch the whole season in three hours and 20 minutes or something like that and it’s just I thought they did a remarkable job like reinventing the form and that’s what I look for and that’s where you get really excited about when people are willing to do it.

One of Netflix’s greatest contributions is bringing the Documentary a sometimes underserved genre to a larger audience than ever before.

I think the market’s never been better. I mean prior to Netflix I mean the whole business was based on. Could you sell movie tickets in arthouse theaters and DVDs. I think one of the reasons that Netflix became so popular on DVD was that underserved audiences Foreign Language Film documentary film had no place to see these movies. It’s the only category of the Oscars that all five nominees would never be available to most people. And so if you had Netflix you could get all of them you see them and it built and built and built so we had we always had a differentially big foreign film and documentary fanbase. So we actually our first part of it before we started doing original shows. We had a label called Red Envelope entertainment where we were producing and acquiring documentaries like The Oscar winner. Born into Brothels and that was like it predated our original content initiative by several years. But we weren’t quite big enough to support it yet so we were ahead of our time too. But now we are fully financing and producing we have 65 original doc features we’re releasing this year. And we have a documentary series like Wild Wild Country and evil genius and doc shorts. We’ve been nominated for three Oscars for our doc shorts and won last year. So I would say this. When I said what’s the market like. It’s not a great way to make money. There’s not a lot of money in it you have to be you have to get ready for that. But it’s a great way to showcase your work. It’s a great way to tell really powerful and meaningful stories and it’s a great way to work on your craft.

Under Ted Sarandos the Netflix audience continues to expand and diversify as the network’s content becomes increasingly global friendly.

We try to make things you know and make them all global. We just launched a show in India called Sacred Games. You can watch it here and we use the technology to overcome the language barrier dubbing and subtitling. And we’re trying to get really great at dubbing into English which is really there’s no real call there hadn’t been really much call for it prior to you know what we’re doing. You know movies that wouldn’t play here you know they were dubbing Godzilla movies but not arthouse movies from Japan. Same thing with kind of Hong Kong cinema. The dubbing into English was really bad so it never really became much more than a little niche. So we are putting a lot of energy into dubbing our content better and better for the world including the English market. So we produce a show in Denmark called the rain. The actors in Denmark all spoke perfect English too so it was local language but they also dubbed themselves into English and then we used voice actors for all the other territories. So we try to make everything available subtitled and in most territories both subtitled and dubbed and now picking those projects I have teams all over the world. We have an office in Mumbai in Singapore in Tokyo that are watching the content from around the world and doing what we’re doing here but all over the world. So they’re inbounding shows hearing pitches reading scripts and producing global shows but from everywhere in the world.

The only place where Mr. Sarandos expressed any doubt about expanding the Netflix Empire is the movie theater.

What I think is that the world is moving very quickly. And the generations behind me who are raised on the Internet have an expectation of kind of what they want where they want how they want. And the notion of being in a movie theater seat at 8 o’clock. Makes almost no sense to a guy like you and your lifestyle. My guess is that the viewing experience at home has gotten remarkably good both in the fidelity and the comforts of home and all those things and the experience in the Multiplex has gotten pretty lousy. Smaller screens people on phones sticky floors rigid Showtimes commercials and by the way I love movies. I love going to the movies but I like to go to the iPics here. I’d like to go to a clean theater I like to go to the Arclight but most people in the world have no access to the Arclight. So we’re not trying to hurt or save the theater business. We’re trying to serve film lovers. And for the most part there could be nothing more aggravating than this film that you hear about all over the world. Everyone is talking about and you have no ability to see it for six seven eight months until after it came out and by then another 400 movies have coming out because you forgot. So it’s just this super inefficient distribution model and increasingly it’s not a great experience for people. I say that broadly because I get to go to the Arclight but like I said for most people who have got a tiny little theater in their town or or worse a multiplex with fifteens tiny screens it’s not really that much different than watching at home anymore. I think the desire to have that big theatrical thing is generational meaning people who grew up on desiring to make a movie for a big screen. That’s how they perceived it in their head. So if they ever get to realize that it feels like a lost experience but the truth is when you see a movie at a premiere or you see it at a festival it happened you saw it on a big screen with an audience. But the rest of the world is going to experience it much different. So we’re not trying to push our movies out to broad theatrical. I’m not trying to keep them off of screens. I would love the theaters to book our movies but I want to do it day and date so meaning that I don’t want to hold back a Netflix movie from 130 million people so that a couple of hundred people can watch it in Chicago. So no that’s not the drive the drive is to work with really great filmmakers tell really great stories serve film lovers and the theater is something that is I hope it lasts forever. And I hope people keep supporting it. But in general I don’t. It’s a very differentiated experience. I think.

When asked about how to start a career in entertainment Mr. Sarandos advised our students to go after every opportunity instead of just following a dream.

When you out of school I mean you didn’t finish it. Did you have a plan at that time.

No I wasn’t sure what I would do that time. I wanted to be a journalist going. I thought I think one of the worst pieces of advice that young people always get is to follow your passion. Because I think it’s really what you want to do is figure out what you’re really good at and you’ll be really passionate about things that you’re good at. I would love to be a professional golfer. That’s never going to happen. So I can keep following that passion. But it’s going to come at the expense of a lot of everything else. So I think the best thing to do. I think in your 20s and early 30s is to really try as many things as you can and figure out what you’re really good at and even if you’re not passionate about it I bet you will be if you’re great at it.

Golfer or not Ted Sarandos has been a trailblazer in the entertainment industry. He’s one of the few producers who has worked across all genres of film and television and succeeded at all of it. We want to thank him not only for speaking to our students but also for bringing them to the amazing Netflix campus for the Q&A. And of course thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&A’s. Check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter. Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to Netflix Sajja Johnson Melissa Enright our media content and events departments as well as the staff and crew who made this all possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

Please note the term Netflix and chill was not used in this episode despite my repeated attempts. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And thank you for listening.