114 – Cameron Johnson (Empire, Zoe Ever After)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Cameron Johnson, TV writer on ‘Empire‘ and ‘Zoe Ever After,’ who has sold several pilots. 

Cameron Johnson Biography

Cameron Johnson grew up in the Bay Area and studied political science at USC, because if you tell your family you’re going to be a lawyer, you don’t just commit to the bit – you get a degree in it. However, while there, he secretly pursued an additional education in screenwriting.

After several torturous years prepping the best and brattiest of Brentwood for the SAT, he became a writer on the BET show ‘Zoe Ever After.’ He then sold ‘White People Problems,’ an hour dramedy about a wealthy, dysfunctional black family to Bravo, and is currently redeveloping it as a half-hour for Peacock.

Cameron has spent the past two seasons working on Fox’s ‘Empire‘, where he wrote and produced six episodes and managed the 160,000 follower writers’ Twitter account. He also sold ‘Diversity Hire,’ a satirical look at race in the workplace, to Fox in 2019.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

2:02 – Interview start, Cameron’s background, from the Bay Area to Political Science at USC.
5:00 – from Poli Sci to his first writing gig.
7:07 – Writing material that wasn’t his voice.
8:12 – How he learned to write from his unique point of view, and what led to his first staff job.
13:13 – His relationship with representation.
15:21 – His first experience on staff, on ‘Zoe Ever After.’
19:10 – Sponsor break
20:16 – Selling ‘White People Problems,’ and what led to his job on ‘Empire.’
24:02 – The trial by fire in going from multi-cam comedy to one hour drama, and what he learned in the process.
27:42 – On developing and selling ‘Diversity Hire’ in a bidding war.
30:16 – Explaining a “put pilot” commitment.
31:02 – On the insecurities of a writer, and whether success makes them go away.
32:30 – How he got involved with Fake Empire, co-creating ‘Tom Swift,’ which will be a back-door pilot inside ‘Nancy Drew.’
36:31 – How he develops and manages his various projects.
38:59 – Advice to greener writers.
46:22 – How does someone develop their own voice, and learn to tell authentic stories?
49:05 – Conclusion.

Follow Cameron on Twitter: @CameronJAwesome.

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.

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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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113 – Lee Aronsohn & Jason Kyle

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Lee Aronsohn, co-creator and showrunner of “Two and a Half Men” and EP of “The Big Bang Theory,” and actor/writer/producer/director Jason Kyle, the founders of the Creators Writing Room.

Lee Aronsohn Biography:

Lee Aronsohn served as showrunner of “Two and a Half Men,” a show which he co-created with Chuck Lorre, and he was also an executive producer on “The Big Bang Theory.” His work spans over three decades, having written for hit shows such as “The Love Boat,” “Who’s the Boss,” “Charles in Charge,” “Cybill,” “CSI,” and others.

Jason Kyle Biography:

Jason is an actor, comedian, writer and voice actor best known for his roles in “100 Blocks,”, “Redress,” and “Watch Dogs 2.” He was also the creator, producer, director and lead actor in “The Bay Area Show.” He currently works in development at Sony Pictures TV, with Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa (creators of “Homeland” and “24“).

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

2:25 – Interview start
3:38 – Lee’s background, from “The Love Boat” to “Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men.”
5:17 – How the industry has changed over the years.
6:23 – How needing health insurance led to co-creating and running “Two and a Half Men.”
10:01 – How “Big Bang Theory” almost didn’t make it, and needed a second pilot.
13:32 – Jason’s background, from the peace corps in Albania to standup comedy.
18:08 – His next few years acting, directing, producing and writing.
23:05 – The “meet cute” — how they connected and ended up working together.
26:25 – Sponsor break.
27:32 – All about The Creators Writing Room – free content and fee-based classes over Zoom.
32:28 – Why free content on the internet isn’t enough.
36:33 – What the Zoom format provides, especially with their small class sizes.
40:33 – Discussing the different classes they offer.
43:18 – Free Co-Pilot Zoom sessions where they deconstruct pilot scripts
45:49 – Wrap up, website info.

Visit The Creators Writing Room at theCWRoom.com and follow on Twitter: @thecwroom.

Follow Lee Aronsohn on Twitter: @BennyAce

Follow Jason Kyle on Twitter: @GetMeJasonKyle

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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112 – Elaine Loh (Gossip Girl, Dynasty)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Elaine Loh, TV writer on the new “Gossip Girl” and “Dynasty,” and also award-winning film writer/director and actor.

Elaine Loh Biography

Elaine recently wrote on the new “Gossip Girl” reboot for HBO Max and is now writing on “Dynasty” for The CW. She is humbled to be a fellow in the HBO Writers Program, as well as to have been named on the coveted Young & Hungry List and as one of the Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch by the International Screenwriters Association. She has had scripts place in the world-renowned PAGE Awards (Silver Prize), Austin Film Festival (3 times), Final Draft Big Break (Top Ten), Tracking Board Launch Pad (Top 50), the ISA (Grand Prize), and the second round of the Sundance Episodic Lab (twice).

Elaine is also a director and her short form series “DOXXED” won Best Short Comedy at Catalyst (formerly itvfest), Best Achievement at Raindance, and a Telly Award (find out more at www.doxxed-series.com). She won the Grand Prize and Audience Vote at the NewFilmmakers LA On Location Project ($60k in cash and prizes) and scored an honorable mention in the Justin Lin/NBCUniversal Interpretations short film contest. She has also directed two short films that screened at Academy-qualifying festivals.

On a personal note, Elaine was born in Singapore, grew up in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and then moved to Massachusetts. She studied Psychology and Math at Brown University, does not speak any Chinese, loves Wendy’s junior bacon cheeseburgers, and can solve a Rubik’s cube in less than two minutes.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:03 – Interview start; her background, studying psychology and math at Brown, and how she pivoted into acting.
3:30 – When she started writing, and why.
4:04 – Her filmmaking and writing before TV, including placing and being recognized in many competitions. Why she considers competitions so important.
7:39 – How she developed as a writer, going a less traditional route into the industry.
12:45 – Compares Gossip Girl and Dynasty, how they helped prepare her to write a script.

14:14 – Sponsor break – visit drivingfootage.com for 4K 9-angle driving plates for TV & film, and podcast viewers get 10% off photo/video scanning and importing at avgearguy.com

15:21 – Getting into and going through the HBO writing fellowship.
18:45 – Getting staffed on Gossip Girl.
20:07 – Being in the writers room for the first time.
22:59 – The pandemic hit, but she was able to land a job on Dynasty. How that show has been different.
25:00 – How her acting experience, and writing directing films has helped her as a TV writer.
27:48 – On developing for TV.
31:45 – Her volunteer work, and what it means to her. 
32:21 – Advice to greener writers, especially when asking someone to read your script.
44:05 – Not giving up.
47:30 – On her award winning web series (www.doxxed-series.com), and how it was great training in telling episodic stories, and in the future, how to run a show.

Elaine runs a political advocacy group that encourages greater civic engagement and raises money for charities. Check it out at www.operationchecksandbalances.org.

Visit Elaine’s website at www.ElaineLoh.com and follow her on Twitter: @ThatElaineLoh.

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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111 – Michael Jamin (Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, Maron, Tacoma FD)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Michael Jamin, TV comedy writer and showrunner who has written on such shows as “King of the Hill,” “Maron,” and “Beavis and Butthead,” and is currently a consulting producer on “Tacoma FD.”

Housekeeping Announcement:

This is the 20th weekly episode since quarantine started, and I am taking a 2-week break before resuming right after Labor Day. I am actively seeking new showrunners and upper level writers to interview, so if you know anyone you think would be a good fit, please reach out.

Michael Jamin Biography:

For the past 25 years, Michael Jamin has been a television writer and showrunner.  His many credits include “King of the Hill,” “Wilfred,” “Maron,” “Beavis and Butthead,” “Brickleberry,” “Just Shoot Me,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Tacoma FD” and many more.

Get 3 lessons from Michael’s new class “The Showrunner’s Guide to TV Writing” for FREE! Visit michaeljamin.com/gray/ for details.

Photo Credit: Paula Marshall

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:43 – Interview start, Michael’s backstory, having the desire to write but no experience. Got a few PA jobs, and then while working on “Lois & Clark” he and his writing partner Sivert Glarum had a chance to pitch an episode, which became one of the highest rated episodes of the season.
5:19 – When he first got representation, and how it didn’t really help him… was when he first got on staff for “Just Shoot Me” that things really took off. Shares what it was like when he first got on staff and didn’t feel he was contributing. Speaks about his mentors during the 4 seasons he was on the show, and some of the advice they gave.
8:17 – Landed the job on “King of the Hill,” where he also wrote for 4 seasons. Speaks about how at that time, it was much more common to jump from show to show as you negotiated more money or a better position. 
10:05 – When he and Sivert started running the room, on “Glenn Martin, D.D.S.” Talks about difference of running the room and writing for animation and live action, single camera vs multi-camera.
11:20 – Fun stories about running the room in live action for the first time, on “Maron.”
13:57 – Talks about his development process, where he finds ideas and projects.
14:50 – His most recent show, “Takoma F.D.”
16:08 – Sponsor break.
17:14 – All about Michael’s new TV & screenwriting online course, “The Showrunner’s Guide to TV Writing.” Visit http://michaeljamin.com/gray for 3 free lessons.
20:32 – State of the industry now vs 20 years ago — easier to break in, but harder to make a living.
21:29 – How he hustles for work — doesn’t depend on his agent, and is constantly writing new material.
23:03 – Aside from his course, suggests reading and studying lots of scripts.
23:55 – Advice to greener writers… write and work on your craft every day. What separates a mediocre script from a good script? In interviews? What gets a writer fired from a staff?
28:59 – What does he wish he had known when he started out? How to break a story. How to learn that skill.
30:41 – How to make it long-term in this business — be nice to people.09

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MJaminWriter

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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110 – Greta Heinemann (NCIS: New Orleans, NBC’s Good Girls)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Greta Heinemann, a TV/film writer who grew up on the Bavarian/Austrian border, and overcame language and immigration barriers to break in to Hollywood.

Greta Heinemann Biography:

Greta Heinemann grew up at the Bavarian-Austrian border and raised herself watching an abundance of German-dubbed US TV shows by day, and action movies by night. Greta has since learned how to speak English and fought hard to immigrate to the US to pursue her dreams of becoming a screenwriter. She currently serves as Supervising Producer on NBC’s “Good Girls,” has a show in development at HBO-Max and is in development on a feature film with David Leitch’s 87North and Amblin Partners.

Greta also developed the Writer’s Wright – The Writer’s Wright is an all-in-one productivity coach, career planner, journal, and notebook specifically developed to help aspiring and working writers structure their careers and lives just as thoroughly as their stories. Find more hours in the day. Make goals and deadlines less intimidating. Inspire. Stay sane, and always drive your story forward. 

Find out more at writerswrightjournal.com.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:40 – Interview start, with her beginnings near the Bavarian/Austrian border, living alone from the age of 11, and learning English by watching TV.
6:48 – How she immigrated to the US… sent 200 applications for internships, and only one was answered. Eventually found an LGBTQ-friendly production company, but had to go back and forth to Germany for 2 years before she got sponsored on a special skills work visa.
14:39 – Got green card — was finally able to apply for writing fellowships, and also became an intern writing coverage.
17:53 – Got into Humanitas New Voices fellowship, and then the CBS Writers Mentoring Program in the same year, and describes the differences between the programs (plus how the TV Writer Podcast helped her get in!).
29:04 – Discusses representation, and why she changed a few times.
32:06 – Staffing on “NCIS: New Orleans” from her first showrunner meeting (and what led up to that), and how she learned the ropes.
46:18 – How after 4 years she left to develop shows.
49:11 – Staffing on NBC’s “Good Girls.”
52:13 – Sponsor break. Visit drivingfootage.com for 4K 9-angle driving plates, or avgearguy.com for laptop rentals, and scanning/importing of photos, tapes, documents and more.
53:12 – More about writing NBC’s “Good Girls.”
56:42 – Her current feature film project and pilot for HBO.
1:02:32 – Where she sees herself in 5-10 years, and her least and most favorite parts about TV writing.
1:08:45 – Advice to greener writers.
1:15:27 – What does she know now that she wishes she had known when she started out.

Follow Greta on Twitter: @GretaHeinemann

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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109 – Priyanka Mattoo – How to Find a Hollywood Mentor During Lockdown

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Priyanka Mattoo, a writer/filmmaker and former UTA & WME agent who shares how to find a Hollywood mentor during lockdown.

Priyanka Mattoo Biography:

Priyanka is a writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles.
She was formerly an agent at UTA and WME, as well as Jack Black’s partner at their production company, Electric Dynamite. Priyanka is the co-founder of EARIOS, a women-led podcast network, and co-hosts its critically-acclaimed beauty/wellness podcast, “Foxy Browns.”

Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vulture, and The Hairpin, and her film work in festivals from Sundance to Cannes. She was raised in India, England, and Saudi Arabia before moving to the U.S. in high school, and holds degrees in Italian and Law from the University of Michigan.

Priyanka now lives in Venice (California) with her husband and kids.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:43 – Interview start
3:10 – Her back story, a wild ride! Studied law, and ended up at UTA, where she found she had a talent for it and rose up quickly.
8:01 – Found she wasn’t fulfilled, and something was missing — partnered with Jack Black to build a TV production company. Sold 40 pitches while she was at that company.
9:33 – Had a yearning to write and direct her own projects, and after making her first short film, felt she found her niche. Also sold a TV pilot version of it.
12:10 – About her female-focused podcast network, and the podcast she hosts.
15:05 – Discussing her excellent industry-related column on Vulture.
18:48 – Sponsor break – drivingfootage.com and avgearguy.com.
19:46 – Finding a mentor during lockdown.
20:59 – Are there exceptions to her advice about not doing cold contact? Having a touch point, or referral. Building a lateral network.
25:44 – Very important to use this time to hone craft and produce material – write scripts, try shooting a short film or podcast.
30:25 – Don’t talk about yourself. Ask questions, offer help, make other people’s lives better. Never ask for a mentor — let them notice and ask you.
33:50 – How to ask without asking. How to be the person they want to mentor. Don’t gossip or slander. Read a lot, and live a life outside of TV. Be relentlessly pleasant… to everyone, at every level. Listen, notice needs and find a way to meet them.
42:42 – Your online presence during lockdown. What to do and not to do.
49:22 – Using SideTime to reach out to established industry people for a fee.

Follow Priyanka on Twitter: @naanking

Visit Priyanka’s website: primattoo.com

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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