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.

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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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108 – Will Pascoe (Showrunner of Absentia)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Will Pascoe, showrunner of “Absentia.” Will also wrote for such shows as “The Finder,” “Orphan Black,” “Da Vinci’s Demons,” and “Shut Eye.”

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!

In this episode, Will has great tips on how not to get fired when you first get on staff, work/life balance, crafting your voice, standing out among the competition, and mentoring others. He also talks about running “Absentia,” including some of the challenges with shooting on another continent.

COVID-19 NOTE: though it was shot in person, safety was maintained through masks when not shooting, long lenses to separate camera and talent, shooting outdoors, and maintaining social distance.

Will Pascoe Bio:

Originally from Canada, Will Pascoe is an award-winning television writer and occasional documentary film director. After writing half-hour television series like “Degrassi,” Will made the jump to writing one-hour television dramas full-time, working on the military-medical series, “Combat Hospital” for ABC and Sony. He then went on to work on Fox’s short-lived series, “The Finder,” and later won a Humanitas New Voices prize and received a blind script deal with Fox to develop his own television show.

He then became an upper-level writer and co-producer on BBC America’s, “Orphan Black.” His episode “Variations Under Domestication” was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best hours of television of the decade and won Will a Writer’s Guild Award and nominations for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and a Hugo Award (where he lost to his idol George R.R. Martin for his “Game of Thrones” “Red Wedding” episode). As well, “Orphan Black” won Will a Peabody Award for his work on the series.

Other credits include the BBC Worldwide/Starz drama series, “Da Vinci’s Demons” and Hulu’s drama series, “Shut Eye.” He’s developed television series for Fox, Playtone and Universal Studios. He’s currently running season three of Amazon Prime’s hit series, “Absentia.” He resides in Los Angeles.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

0:25- Interview start, talking about Will’s origins in Canada.
2:26 – First professional writing credit became infamous episode of “DeGrassi.”
3:35 – His first staff job on “Combat Hospital.”
4:42 – Thanks to Hart Hanson, landed a gig on “The Finder,” his first Hollywood show.
5:27 – How he learned to write TV mostly self taught, reading books and scripts, and doing a lot of writing, crafting his own voice.
8:34 – How directing documentaries has influenced his writing, becoming a student of human behavior and interaction, and trying to understand the world.
9:53 – Many of his scripts have stood out… discusses the “Orphan Black” episode which was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best hours of television of the decade.
12:04 – About winning the Humanitas New Voices Award, selling a pilot to Fox, and moving to Los Angeles (including victories and challenges, and immigration).
19:07 – Comparing his path to the more traditional way of breaking in to Hollywood.
21:56 – Sponsor break.
22:54 – Talks about his experience in the Showrunner Training Program, learning about work/life balance for a showrunner. How the information and network of relationships has helped him in the time since.
30:29 – Coming in cold as the showrunner for “Absentia.”
33:31 – The challenges with shooting in Bulgaria, including a funny story about language barriers.
38:21 – Will’s development process, and some of the projects he’s developing.
41:53 – On pitching his material… pitching with slides, and why it’s more difficult via Zoom. Funny stories about Zoom calls.
47:29 – Positives that may come from COVID-19 — better treatment of production crews, better conditions on set.
51:56 – Differences between Canadian and American shows. How new staff writers are treated in each, and advice for new staff writers in US shows. Asking more established writers frequently for a “temperature check” — how did I do in the writers room this week? How more mature writers should go out of their way to encourage newer writers.
57:10 – How Will mentors other writers. Paying it forward.
58:20 – Advice to newer writers, in interviews and on the page. Have ideas for the show, and know the show really well.
1:02:22 – How to stand out among the competition. Make the showrunner’s job easier, constantly push yourself to improve your writing, and always keep learning. Leave your comfort zone, and challenge yourself with different types of writing.

Follow Will Pascoe on Twitter: @EvilWillPascoe

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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107 – Jami O’Brien (Creator / Showrunner of N0S4A2)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Jami O’Brien, creator & showrunner of “N0S4A2” on AMC.

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!

In this episode, Jami has great tips for the writers room, improving your writing, winning in interviews, adapting pre-existing material, and general career advice.

Jami O’Brien Bio:

Jami O’Brien created and showruns “NOS4A2” for AMC. Previously, she’s written for “Fear the Walking Dead,” “Hell on Wheels,” “Big Love,” and “Flesh and Bone,” which was nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award. Jami has an MFA in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:06 – Interview start, mention her show “N0S4A2.”

2:00 – Her back story – writing as a kid, Yale playwriting, and eventually moving to LA because of a friend who was a TV writer.

5:18 – Her first LA job, assisting a manager, learning about the industry.

7:11 – When she first started trying to write for TV, got a writing assistant job thanks to one of her Yale professors who was a show runner. Resisted writing a spec, but when she finally did, got good traction from it and landed an agent. Still did not get staffed right away, but after several interviews she was staffed on “Lie To Me.”

12:38 – What it was like to finally write on staff.

14:10 – Talks about her next couple of shows, “The Deep End,” “Big Love,” and a longer stint on “Hell on Wheels.” Describes great lessons she learned from the showrunners and another writer who was a mentor, which helped her scripts to be rewritten less and less.

19:32 – Sponsor break.

20:37 – How she got an overall deal at AMC, got attached to the “N0S4A2” project, and was co-EP on “Fear the Walking Dead.”

23:06 – Her process in how she adapted the book “N0S4A2” into a series, and doing a mini writer’s room.

25:53 – Being a part of the Showrunner Training Program.

30:39 – What it was like to build a staff and run a show for the first time. Some discussion about mini writers rooms.

34:28 – What is she looking for when she interviews new writers? Looking for a voice, a point of view, and something unique. Must stand out from the bulk of scripts which are pretty good.

37:19 – What she looks for in interviews.

38:17 – Where her show is at with respect to Coronavirus.

39:13 – How she feels about the current TV landscape.

41:06 – Advice to younger self.

42:52 – Mistakes she sees newer writers making.

Follow Jami on Twitter: @jami_obrien

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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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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