106 – UK Show Creator / Show Runner Dan Sefton (Co-Founder, Seven Seas Films)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews UK show creator / showrunner and practicing doctor Dan Sefton, who is also the co-founder of the independent production company Seven Seas Films.

This episode is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering TV Writer Podcast listeners a 10% discount on any of her services. To get your 10% off, reach out to her directly and tell her Gray sent you!

Dan Sefton Bio:

Dan Sefton is a prolific television writer who founded Seven Seas Films in 2016 alongside producer Simon Lupton, with the aim of creating and producing TV drama for the UK and international markets, putting the writer at the center of the process. Together they have several projects in development, including “The last Days of Marilyn,” in partnership with 101 Studios.

Previously an A&E doctor, he started his television career as a hobby; writing episodes of UK medical dramas such as “Doctors,” “Casualty” and “Holby City.” Delving into the world of scripted drama, Dan also wrote episodes of Harlan Coben’s “The Five” (Sky One), “Death in Paradise” (BBC One), “Monarch of the Glen” (BBC One), “Mr Selfridge” (ITV) and “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (ITV2).
Having written comedy series “Porters” for UKTV to critical acclaim, Dan went on to write the original four-part drama series, “Delicious,” starring Dawn French, Emilia Fox and Iain Glen for Bandit TV and Sky One. He also wrote four-part thriller “Trust Me” for Red Productions and BBC One, starring Jodie Whittaker, which was broadcast in August 2017.

Most recently, Dan’s writing credits include Tiger Aspect’s “The Good Karma Hospital,” now in its third series on ITV, and “The Mallorca Files” with Cosmopolitan Pictures and ProSieben for BBC One which is in production with series two.

In May 2019, Great Point, the UK’s leading independent media and investment firm, invested in Seven Seas Films.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:42 – Interview start… how Dan started out as a medical doctor, and amazingly, continues to practice medicine while writing. How the first script he ever wrote was produced, for the UK show “Doctors.” Many medical shows followed… Dan discusses the difference between his real life experiences and the shows the end up on TV, how he was actually more appealing to producers when he was practicing medicine than when he quit it, and how he maintains the balance between the two.

9:41 – Dan discusses how representation works in the UK, and his experience with representation.

12:19 – How freelance scripts work in the UK… how there is not as much of a writing room in the UK, but how there are non-writing creative producers who do a lot of the series building and planning.

17:27 – How he made the jump to creating and running shows.

21:40 – The process from pitch to production of how he creates shows. How in the UK, you work much more with independent production companies to pitch shows to the network… discussion on the UK process is similar to how reality TV is developed in the US.

26:40 – Why and how he created his own production company.

29:29 – Sponsor break

30:26 – Differences between the US and the UK in how a show is run… how UK TV is much more of a writer auteur medium, but the US excels at delivering volume. Could a US writing room work in the UK?

36:54 – Dan has worked in several genres… is that easier in the UK?

40:40 – With shorter seasons in the UK, is it easier for a younger writer to get a show off the ground? How pairing with established production companies can help. How his company Seven Seas looks for new unique voices, but expects people to have done a lot of homework before walking in the door.

49:37 – Does he see many writers crossing the pond, one way or the other? Mostly, he sees showrunners from the US attracted to the writer-as-auteur system.

52:44 – Advice to greener writers… understand that you are the product, not just your script. What do you bring to the table? You must be able to sell that too. Also, know what you are getting into, and be willing to work very hard. It’s better to write a fresh take on a genre than to reinvent the wheel. And… train yourself to work very quickly, even if it’s not for a specific deadline.

Follow Dan on Twitter: @dansefton

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

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105 – Steve Harper (God Friended Me, American Crime, Send Me)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews writer-producer Steve Harper, who wrote for “God Friended Me,” “American Crime,” and “Covert Affairs,” and created the hit web series “Send Me.”

This episode is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her online “Writing TV” class, which runs Saturdays from July 11 – August 1. To get your 10% off, use the coupon code onthepage10 at checkout.

In this interview, Steve shares how his acting and playwriting experience has helped him in his TV writing, the way the CBS Writers Mentoring Program helped him to win in showrunner meetings, how adapting in a gap in his career resulted in a hit web series that kickstarted the next leg of his career, and tips for networking. He also shares about the current racial unrest, challenges he has faced as an African American writer, and where he sees Hollywood needs to change going forward, in the diversity in writing staffs, and in the stories that are told.

Steve Harper is a native New Yorker who grew up in a house with a Catholic father and a mother obsessed with Stephen King and true crime novels. He enjoys writing character-based dramas that (sometimes) make use of magical realism.

Steve served as producer on the CBS show “God Friended Me.” He was co-producer on the upcoming HBO Max series “Tell Me Your Secrets” and wrote for ABC’s “American Crime” (created by John Ridley). Steve spent two seasons on the USA network’s “Covert Affairs.”

His original web series “Send Me” – about time traveling black people – (CLICK HERE to view on YouTube) premiered on BET.com to 1.66 million views, won multiple festival awards, and garnered a 2016 Emmy nomination for series lead Tracie Thoms. Steve’s short films include “Betty on The Bed” (writer, producer, director and actor) and “Intelligence” (writer).

He has written more than 20 plays, which have been workshopped and produced in New York, L.A. and in between. He also coaches writers through his company Your Creative Life. Steve is a graduate of Yale, The A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard, Juilliard’s playwriting program and the CBS Writers Mentoring Program.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:
01:57 – Interview start, discussing Steve’s background and influences.
04:13 – Studying at Yale, Harvard, and Juilliard, and writing over 20 plays — how playwriting can be an excellent training ground for TV writers.
14:03 – His acting work, and how that also helped prepare him for TV writing.
16:26 – Being accepted to CBS Writers Mentoring Program, and what the experience was like.
19:30 – What he learned about how to win in showrunner and other meetings, and lots of detail on how to network after the meeting.
27:14 – Getting on his first writing staff, on Covert Affairs… learning the culture of the room, and how to contribute to the stories being told.
32:40 – After Covert Affairs… 3 whole years of not being staffed, how he adapted, and did the web series “Send Me,” which got an Emmy nomination for the series lead, and led to his new series, “American Crime.”
36:55 – How Steve feels about the current racial tensions, and the challenges he has faced as an African American writer and actor. What can be done to change the situation? What can change Hollywood, both in diversity of hiring and in the stories that are told?
51:46 – Advice for greener writers: cheerful persistence, adapting and be continuously developing new material. Also what inspires you? Proactively reach out to people.

Follow Steve on Twitter: @HarperCreates

Photo Credit: Greg Crowder

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

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104 – Evan Bleiweiss (Vampire Diaries, Rosewood, Black Sails, The Crossing)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews writer-producer Evan Bleiweiss, who has written for “The Vampire Diaries,” “Rosewood,” and “The Crossing,” and has sold several TV pilots, though he never went to college.

This episode is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her online “Writing TV” class, which runs Saturdays from July 11 – August 1. To get your 10% off, use the coupon code onthepage10 at checkout.

Evan Bleiweiss grew up on Long Island, but his family moved to Los Angeles in time for him to attend high school here. It was a teacher’s encouragement of his unique voice that led him to pursue writing… and it just so happened that he played hockey with then-unknown Shawn Ryan. Shawn gave him an opportunity to intern on the pilot of “The Shield,” but then encouraged him to take some time to hone his craft before really trying to break in. That’s exactly what he did… and another relationship led to him being hired onto the series in season 4 as a post-PA. By the 7th season, he was a writer’s assistant, and ended up co-writing the penultimate episode of the series.

You might see a pattern emerging… Evan credits many of his opportunities and successes to taking the time to foster relationships. He shares many great stories about staffing on “The Vampire Diaries,” “Matador,” “Black Sails,” and then the full run of “Rosewood,” where he rose to supervising producer level. His many sold pilots include a remake of “Big Trouble In Little China,” which is an amazing story of a pilot he wrote on spec WITHOUT the rights, but ended up being contracted to do a paid rewrite.

Evan has a lot of advice for greener writers, and he shares how a strong work ethic, the willingness to study hard and hone his craft, active networking, and the fact that he was already based in LA made it possible for him to break in without a college degree..

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:
2:16 – Interview start; Evan’s background, how a high school teacher inspired his interest in writing for film & TV.
6:00 – How playing hockey with Shawn Ryan led to him becoming an intern on “The Shield.”
8:00 – How Shawn Ryan encouraged him to take time to hone his craft, and he started writing together with a friend of his.
10:41 – How they wrote a play together that got produced in LA.
11:32 – How another hockey buddy led him to apply for a post PA job on “The Shield,” which he did for over 2 seasons and learned a ton.
16:24 – How on his 3rd season at “The Shield,” he applied to be a writers assistant and got the job.
17:07 – how he proved himself invaluable by being an encyclopedia of everything that had happened on the show, and he ended up co-writing the second-last episode of the series.
20:01 – Discussion about how he didn’t need to go to college to break in.
21:18 – Discussion about his representation.
21:57 – Using the 2008 Writers Strike to write a killer spec pilot, and wrote a TV version of “Big Trouble In Little China” (without permission), and the crazy circumstances that led to him being contracted to re-write it as a real pilot.
26:13 – On getting an agent and writing his next pilot.
28:36 – His first staff gig on “The Vampire Diaries.”
31:26 – Leaving “The Vampire Diaries” after 2 seasons, when his daughter was born. Took time off, then was staffed on “Matador.”
34:18 – How he landed on his feet when his show was unexpectedly cancelled, and ended up working on “Black Sails” season 3.
37:24 – How an old friend he kept up with led him to work on “Rosewood,” which was his first chance to be on a series from beginning to end.
40:06 – How another relationship led to him working on “The Crossing.”
41:37 – Getting back to developing his own projects, selling a couple of pilots. with a stint on “See” for Apple and the upcoming show “Archive 81” for Netflix.
45:34 – Coping with COVID-19.
46:25 – What mistakes he sees younger writers making. Learning to break story very quickly, and to write quickly. Not being precious with your ideas. Writing specs to practice writing the voice of the show runner.
52:47 – How he never saw not going to college as a disadvantage.
55:25 – Who his mentors have been over the years. How he feels you need to be always learning. Watching a show while reading the script to study it. Fostering relationships.
59:00 – Advice to younger self – reassurance that you are on the right path, even if things are hard. Don’t give up! If you work really hard and persist, people will notice. Throw yourself all the way in — read lots of scripts, study, put the work in to learning your craft.

Follow Evan on Twitter: @EPBleiweiss

Photo credit: Kenchy Ragsdale

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

PLEASE NOTE: we are now doing Tuesday releases, to line up with Script Magazine’s release dates.

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103 – Carole Kirschner (CBS Diversity Institute Writers Mentoring Program, Showrunner Training Program)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Carole Kirschner, creator and director of the CBS Diversity Institute Writers Mentoring Program, and director of the Showrunner Training Program.

This episode is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her online “Writing TV” class, which runs Saturdays from July 11 – August 1. To get your 10% off, use the coupon code onthepage10 at checkout.

This is Carole Kirschner’s third appearance on the podcast — be sure to check out her first interview in episode 054, where she talked about her own career path through the industry and her excellent book, Hollywood Game Plan. Her second appearance was in Gray’s well attended panel at San Diego Comic-Con called “How to Write a TV Pilot,” in episode 085.

In this new interview, Carole reveals tons of great tips on how to stand out from the rest of the pack in your submissions to the CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program. Her advice is also applicable to the other writing fellowships, and college applications as well. She also has great tips on what makes or breaks writing samples, and shares at length about the Showrunner Training Program and the current state of the industry.

Having worked as a senior level television development executive for eighteen years (including her posts at CBS and as head of Steven Spielberg’s first Amblin Television), Carole has read over heard over 3,000 pitches, read more than 1,000 scripts, bought hundreds of projects and was involved in developing dozens of television series.

She is currently the Director of the Writers Guild of America’s Showrunner Training Program, the creator and Director of the CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program and is consulting with the Jewish Writers Initiative Program.

She’s also an author and international speaker. In her role as an entertainment career coach she helps aspiring writers, producers and directors navigate Hollywood as they break in and move up in the entertainment industry.

Her book, Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment, published by Michael Weise Publishers, is taught in film schools and universities around the country.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:
0:00 – Introduction
4:01 – Interview start, discussing how the industry has and hasn’t changed since she published Hollywood Game Plan 8 years ago. How she considers it easier to get your content produced, and social media is playing a bigger role.
8:20 – Main topic of interview — expanding on her Twitter thread discussing script submissions to CBS Diversity Institute Writers Mentoring Program. What is the program and why would someone want to apply for it?
12:15 – 6-8 are chosen each year from over 1,300 submissions. What will make your application stand out?
13:22 – How the letter of interest/personal essay is a writing sample.
19:30 – Story submissions – make it something only you can write, but universal.
22:02 – Need genuine life experience, not just being inspired from TV you’ve watched. Read other mediums, not just TV.
26:13 – What makes a compelling spec episode? Do stunt scripts work?
35:08 – Why stay within one genre? Finding your sweet spot and sticking to it. What will you bring to the room?
40:12 – How many are disqualified for not following instructions, and why?
42:53 – What is the track record of the program?
44:19 – Sponsor break.
45:30 – All about the Showrunner Training Program, moving from being a writer to a manager, delivering quality scripts on time. What does the program offer? Who is eligible?
52:40 – What is its track record?
56:41 – What is the landscape like for breaking in to television writing in 2020, virus aside? How she finds people aren’t working hard enough on their careers.
59:58 – How important is a college education now?
1:01:05 – How is COVID-19 changing the way someone might break in?
1:03:17 – Final advice and call to action.

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

PLEASE NOTE: we are now doing Tuesday releases, to line up with Script Magazine’s release dates.

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102 – Spiro Skentzos (Arrow, Grimm, Chadam)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews writer Spiro Skentzos, who has written for “Arrow,” “Grimm,” and TV pilots, as well as “Chadam,” an animated web series he co-created.

This episode is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her online “Writing TV” class, which runs Saturdays from July 11 – August 1. To get your 10% off, use the coupon code onthepage10 at checkout.

Spiro Skentzos grew up in a multi-ethnic family speaking Spanish, Greek, and English – and the inevitable mash-up of Magical Realism and ancient mythology primed him as a child to fall hard for genre stories, the world-building fantasy of comic books, and Star Wars.

His first foray into screenwriting was as a young boy, when he wrote a script for his Star Wars figures where they battled his sister’s giant, menacing Barbie dolls—and he’s been writing ever since.

His professional career began in comedy on “George Lopez.” Then Spiro co-created and co-wrote the animated sci-fi/zombie web series “Chadam.” He’s written on two seasons on “Grimm,” a season on “Arrow,” and has sold 3 pilots.

To inspire the next generation of writers, Spiro created the “Intro to TV Writing” panel at Comic-Con, currently in its eleventh year. He’s a graduate of NBC’s Writers on the Verge Program, and co-chairs the WGA’s LGBTQ+ Committee. When not writing, he paints (on canvas, not houses), is learning French, and still enjoys reading comics. Follow Spiro on twitter @spirographo & IG @spirovisionproductions.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

01:29 – Interview start.
02:18 – How is the virus affecting you?
04:41 – His background, art history major at U of Michigan.
05:31 – Started as an assistant on the George Lopez Show.
05:44 – How he “almost” got representation air that time.
07:34 – How he made the shift to genre writing, and where his love of mythology and comic books came from.
08:44 – Co-creating, co-writing animated web series Chadam, trying to break into one hour drama. Agent horror story, and the spec that got him into NBC Writers on the Verge.
10:19 – 2008 writers strike was a setback, but NBC really pushed to get him onto a show, and he finally got on staff on Grimm.
13:02 – On developing and selling pilots and a feature, and then staffing on Arrow.
15:19 – Sponsors.
16:17 – All about Arrow.
18:01 – What he’s been working on since Arrow.
18:57 – Who his mentors have been – Erika Kennair, Karen Horn, others, and the importance of fostering friendships. Also how he mentors others.
22:18 – How and why he got started moderating panels.
25:49 – how he learned and hones his craft.
27:21 – toughest part and best part about being a TV writer. Turning bad experiences into a story.
31:08 – How Peak TV is changing TV writing… smaller staffs, shorter runs.
34:14 – His future plans.
37:45 – Tips for greener writers, general writing & career tips.

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

PLEASE NOTE: we are now doing Tuesday releases, to line up with Script Magazine’s release dates.

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101 – Shawn Ryan (Timeless, SWAT, The Shield, The Chicago Code, The Unit)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews veteran producer Shawn Ryan, who has created or co-created a number of series, including The Shield, The Chicago Code, Last Resort, Timeless, and his current series SWAT.

This episode is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount to TV Writer Podcast viewers. To get your 10% off, contact Pilar through her website and mention the podcast.

Shawn Ryan started out writing and acting in plays. He won the prestigious Norman Lear Playwriting Award, which included an opportunity to come to Los Angeles and observe the TV series My Two Dads. One of his pitches got turned into an episode for the series, and he knew he wanted to write for TV! But it would be several years of hard work, honing his craft and writing over a dozen spec scripts, before he finally got his first staff gig on Nash Bridges.

Shawn is a learner, and a very hard worker. He has many helpful stories to tell about how he learned his craft, and how he learned to be his own worst critic. You’ll love hearing how he came to create and run The Shield when he had very little production experience, and how he learned to create and co-create so many successful series.

Timeless fans will be especially excited to hear about how he co-created that show with Eric Kripke, the love he has for the show and the fans, and how hopeful he is for future continuation of the story.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:22 – Interview start, overview of creating and helping to create and run shows in a competitive industry.
3:24 – How has COVID-19 affected him?
7:18 – Back at the beginning, how did winning the Normal Lear Playwriting Award help launch his career? Discusses theater and playwriting, then going to Hollywood to observe My Two Dads as part of the award, and starting to pitch ideas on the show.
10:56 – Harder times after that show, getting days jobs and learning to increase his work ethic. Was a clever writer, but needed to learn the craft of being a deep writer.
12:28 – Wrote 16-17 spec scripts… talks about the 3 most important factors in breaking in.
14:53 – His first staff gig on Nash Bridges, after writing freelance episodes of Life with Louie.
16:54 – How the years of struggle are important for a writer.
19:23 – How not getting hired on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was actually better for his career — describes this training ground on Nash Bridges with Carlton Cuse and John Worth in detail, and working on Angel. Learning to become valuable to a show by being a story machine.
25:31 – How The Shield was born out of a spec pilot he had written… how he didn’t have much production experience but was open about what he didn’t know and relied on good people around him to succeed. Lots of detail about building this show for the new FX Network.
37:44 – The next few years, successfully developing many projects, working on The Unit with David Mamet, Mad Dogs. Getting excited about projects.
41:48 – Sponsor messages.
43:02 – All about co-creating Timeless with Eric Kirpke, and running that show. How he loves history, and the book The People’s History was a great resource for stories. How amazed he is by the fans, and how he is hopeful about the show’s future.
51:27 – How he feels about Peak TV as a show creator. Will TV decline the way movies did?
54:22 – Advice to younger writers, and to people trying to break in. How he asked to read a spec that was getting that writer work, and studied it. Learned not to settle for B+ work.

Follow Shawn on Twitter: @ShawnRyanTV

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

PLEASE NOTE: we are now doing Tuesday releases, to line up with Script Magazine’s release dates.

WATCH NOW:

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