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.

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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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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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100 – Benjamin Raab & Deric A. Hughes (Warehouse 13, Arrow, The Flash, Legacies)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews writer/producer team Benjamin Raab and Deric A. Hughes, currently co-executive producing Legacies on the CW, who have written and produced on Arrow, Scream: the Series, The Flash, Beauty and the Beast and Warehouse 13.

Episode 099 is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her interactive-online class “Rewrite Techniques,” running Four Saturdays, May 23 – June 13. To get your 10% off, use the code onthepage10 at checkout.

Benjamin Raab and Deric A. Hughes have written together for almost 20 years. Ben got his start in comic books, which led to their “geek cute” in a comic book shop. They describe how it took many years of writing and applying, including for for a comic book series and web series, and multiple years applying for fellowships, before they finally landed a spot in NBC Writers on the Verge.

While still in that fellowship, they were staffed on Warehouse 13, and have high praise for the positive creative environment fostered by showrunner Jack Kenny (interviewed in episode 2). From there, they wrote on Beauty and the Beast, The Flash, Scream: The Series, and Arrow, before landing a co-EP gig on Legacies.

They also describe their experience in the Showrunner Training Program, what they’ve learned, and how important it is to mentor others and “pay it forward.”

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

0:00 – Fun blooper from the interview.
2:01 – Interview starts, Ben & Deric describe the “geek cute” of their writing partnership, in a comic book shop.
4:44 – Deric tells about his background, and what led to them writing together.
6:52 – the years of hard work from when they started writing together to when they got into NBC Writers on the Verge, including writing a comic series and web series.
13:59 – Their experience getting into and attending the Writers on the Verge program, then staffing on Warehouse 13 while still in the program.
17:39 – Their experience writing on Warehouse 13 under showrunner Jack Kenny
21:30 – Discussion about going to set for their episodes, and different showrunner philosophies. Do they focus on trying to get work with showrunners they like? Also about stepping stones in your career.
27:12 – Puppy cameo! (Also 50:07)
31:23 – On getting fired from shows, bad showrunner experiences. Other trials and tribulations.
39:22 – Sponsor break
40:21 – All about the Showrunner Training Program — how a lot of being a good showrunner boils down to being good communicator, and hiring the right people to do each job (and then letting them do their job).
52:44 – The mentoring they’ve received, and paying it forward.
1:00:56 – Advice to greener writers – be patient, check your ego at the door, listen, learn, never stop being a student.

Follow Ben on Twitter: @Wondermasons. Follow Deric on Twitter: @dblackanese.

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: starting today we are moving to simultaneous Tuesday releases on all platforms. Watch for us each week on Podbean (video), Podbean (audio), YouTube (video), Spotify (audio), iTunes (video), iTunes (audio), at scriptmag.com, and of course here at tvwriterpodcast.com.

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091 – Khanisha Foster (“How I Wrote That” Podcast)

This week, Gray Jones interviews Khanisha Foster, host of the Stephen’s College M.F.A program’s “How I Wrote That” podcast, which features Hollywood’s most successful working female writers discussing their journey and current projects.

Khanisha Foster is a mixed race actress, writer, teaching artist, the Associate Artistic Director of 2nd Story and a TCG’s Young Leader of Color. She is currently enrolled in the M.F.A program and touring with her Solo Show “Actor of Color.”

Follow Khanisha on Twitter: @KhanishaFoster.

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 1,000 TV writers. Find our previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com or on Gray’s YouTube channel.

087 – ‘Hand of God’ Creator Ben Watkins

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Ben Watkins moved 14 times by the time he graduated high school. As a kid, his experiences ran the gamut from living in a fancy, gated community, to being homeless and sleeping in a 1976 Ford Monarch. He was married and had a family by the time he graduated college.

Before he turned to writing, Ben had worked more than 30 jobs ranging from plastics salesman to paralegal to soap opera stud. With such an eclectic background, it’s no wonder he has emerged as one of the most original storytellers in television.

Ben Watkins began the transition to writing with the award-winning Sundance short film Quest to Ref, which he wrote, co-directed and starred in. Soon after adapting that project into a feature screenplay for Universal, Watkins joined USA Network’s Burn Notice. He rose from staff writer to executive producer, before moving on to create the provocative Amazon Originals series, Hand of God. Watkins recently completed production on season one of Hand of God, which premiered in September.

Ben resides in El Segundo, California, with his wife and four sons.

Follow Ben on Twitter: @_benipedia_

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 1,000 TV writers. Find our previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com or on Gray’s YouTube channel.

077 – Own Your Career – Sterling Anderson (Sterling Writers Group)

Sterling Anderson is back! In an interview that is sure to change the path of your career, Sterling relates in great depth how and why some artists fail, and others succeed. This one is not just for writers!


No stranger to the podcast (interviewed in episode 053), Sterling Anderson is back for a full video in-person interview, to give us a much deeper look at his great career wisdom. He shares many tips from his second writing book, Writing Without Fear, 15 Steps Towards Becoming a Successful (Artist) Writer. If you haven’t read his books, you will want to after this interview!

In particular, Sterling shares about deconstructing the various forms of self sabotage, and what winning habits you can replace them with. The lessons are practical for any artist, or anyone with a dream!

Sterling also discusses his new script consulting / mentoring company, Sterling Writers Group, and has some strong words to say about why it’s important to do your homework when choosing a script consultant or mentor.

For more info:

– Watch Sterling’s first podcast interview: PODCAST 053
– Visit Sterling’s personal website: sterlingandersonwriter.com
– Visit the Sterling Writers Group website: sterlingwritersgroup.com

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 1,000 TV writers. Find our previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com or on Gray’s YouTube channel.