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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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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