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Exclusive Interviews

Heidi Nyburg

By | Exclusive Interviews

Heidi Nyburg followed up her top 10 finalist placing in Script Pipeline’s TV Writing Competition with a win in the 2017 Script Pipeline First Look Project for her pilot Silicon Curve. The series is loosely based on the story of her mother working in the male-dominated 1970s Silicon Valley. Soon after her win, the pilot garnered attention from producers and managers. She writes both features and TV material.

You’ve worked in entertainment for a while, but what made you jump into screenwriting? 

If by “for a while” you mean directed a few shorts and produced a feature in college, then yes, I am clearly an industry veteran. The truth is I started late, I did things backward, got the job first, then went to college. I have always loved writing, and while working as an analyst at Netflix, I took a weekend TV writing class at a community college in Cupertino. I knew that having story ideas wasn’t enough, it’s all in the execution, and I wanted to create something real. Later, I went back to college and studied television and film at San Jose State University. I took a screenwriting class there, and the first week, the professor used my scene as an example in class. We cast it, did a little table read, and everyone laughed in the right places. It was fun. I think I still have the audio recording because I thought it was really special to have that opportunity, and I’m kind of sappy like that. Looking back, it was pretty awful, so much description. I wrote my first feature in that class and then was invited to take the masters class as an undergrad.

But I think it was taking the UCLA professional programs in both TV and film that really solidified it for me. I had some fantastic teachers. The late John Sweet was an inspirational mentor to me, and Chuck Kim in the TV writing program. Both were instrumental in helping me elevate my writing. They asked good questions, which really pushed me to get to the root of the stories I was writing.

Although you’ve written features, it’s been your pilots that have cracked through (at least with Script Pipeline). For up-and-coming writers who kind of straddle the line, writing features and TV material equally, what are some of the key takeaways that help you transition between both? 

I started out writing features, and I’ll always be drawn to writing them. You get the entire story, it’s full circle. But I think I’ve focused on TV more because of the fantasy, the dream, of being able to see what the characters do next. I know none of my shows are shows yet, but I firmly believe that if you are going to do something, do it with the intent and the belief and the work ethic to make the end goal happen. That’s a super long and wordy way of saying act as if. If I’m writing a show, I’m writing the bible, too. I’m doing everything possible to make it a thing. Writing television offered more for me in terms of building a long-term world and characters I’d want to follow. And transitioning back and forth, I found that writing for TV has improved my feature writing. Learning to write act breaks in television and then transferring that technique to film scripts has helped me tremendously to create scenes that push the story forward. Even if you’re writing for streaming or premium cable where there are no commercial breaks, you still write to them, so that skill translates really well to film. I think every good film does that, every scene should be compelling enough to work as an act break.

I guess the takeaway is to let the lessons from one platform of writing spill over into your other writing. Be fluid about it and see what serves the story best. If you have a feature you’ve written that feels like it has more there, try rewriting it as a pilot. It worked for Sam Esmail with Mr. Robot.

Writers are bound to receive tons of advice. Some of it. . . well, probably unsolicited. Who were the figures that motivated you to keep it up–and more importantly, what guidance did they impart that continues to carry you through from script to script? How does a writer decide what advice to take and what advice to abandon? There can only be one direction, after all. At some point do you just trust your gut instinct?

I’ve been pretty lucky in that everyone around me has been supportive and encouraging. From my neighbor who listens to pitch after pitch on our walks, to friends who read drafts. And my husband, who has read everything I’ve written more times than I have and who has gotten quite good at giving serious notes. To put it diplomatically, he’s very objective. He reads my work like a loveless stranger; no holds barred. It’s kinda sexy, actually.

The least supportive person has been me. You know that voice that pops up? The “you’re not good enough” voice. “Who do you think you are? You’ll never be Shonda Rhimes.” Yes, that voice can be painfully specific. I spend some time pushing that stuff away. Ultimately, though, whenever I’ve thought of giving up, some bright spot will reveal itself, and I’ll laugh about ever contemplating it. I think this goes for anything you do that’s competitive and requires a person to keep trying harder: you reach a point where it’s more difficult psychologically to not pursue the goal than it is to pursue the goal. Giving up is always harder. It’s the death of a dream, and who wants that?

Advice to take or to abandon (I’m going to take that to mean notes). . . . I’m just gonna say it: I love notes. Notes are a gift. Whether at face value or for the note behind the note. The fact that someone took the time to read words that came out of my head still blows my mind. Most notes are incredibly helpful, and all notes have a spirit of the note that has something to reveal.

As for deciding whether or not to use a note, I think about it a lot. I play the change out in my head, play out the ramifications. Some of the best notes have been ones where initially I’m almost repulsed by the idea, something that feels really backward. Sometimes it’s a note I’ve given myself. Something doesn’t feel right about a plot point, but I’ve been living with it so long it’s like a comfortable old sofa. So do the hard work, try to apply the note, make the change that seems impossible. Every single time, the story will be better for having done so. Even if you don’t end up using the feedback, the exercise of trying to use it will always be useful. I think the important thing to remember when receiving notes is to listen graciously. Every person who reads your work has a whole world they bring to the table, different perspectives, experience. Take it all in and decide what works best for the story.

And yeah, at some point it is a gut instinct. But most of the time, for me, it involves some insomnia. What if it doesn’t work? Ah, but what if it does?

Silicon Curve stood out to us on a number of levels regarding the writing, but also conceptually. It’s very “right now.” And such a stellar role for an actress. What made you decide to pursue it as a series? How much did your childhood and your mother’s experiences play a factor, maybe not in the direction of the plot, but the themes and some of the character inspirations.

Initially, I pursued the story because I kept noticing that the people talking about the birth of technology in the Valley were mostly men. And that’s not meant to sound anti-male-accomplishment at all. Yay men. It’s just that I knew, first hand, that there was a lot more story to tell. Growing up in Silicon Valley with aunts, a grandmother, and a mother who worked in tech meant that I knew those stories very well, and I thought wow, this is something people really don’t hear much about.

Plot-wise it felt much more like a series. It has that snapshot in time quality, it’s historical, it’s recognizable, the politics are there. The women and men in this story are growing and changing along with the country and society, sometimes quickly which causes a backlash, so there are growing pains. And I think looking back on those years, we are afforded an opportunity to see what has changed and what hasn’t changed. And of course, the advancing technology is there, but more importantly, I think the characters are what drives the story, their actions and their reactions to the world.

A lot of the stories in the pilot and in the bible are based on personal experience, but there was also a ton of research involved. In terms of themes, there’s a lot going on. The pilot touches on what it’s like to be the only person you can depend upon and the alone-ness of single parenthood. The fear of leaving something not great in exchange for the unknown. I think these questions and themes are relatable. And I’ve had people say don’t make Jill (the protagonist) stay with Randy (her husband), he’s so wrong for her, we won’t like her. But she kind of has to work that out for herself. And I think that makes her more interesting. What will compel her to leave or to stay? Will she be able to be alone or will she be in relationship after relationship? I think some of those answers will come from experiences in my life, and the way things played out for my mom.

Character-wise almost every person came from an impression of someone I knew, but then I intensified that impression and often combined them with another person. And Valerie is based on a friend from high school. And yeah, I hope you’re right, I hope Jill is actress bait. She’s flawed and I think she’d be a lot of fun to play. She’s inspired by an incredibly strong woman. A woman who had only been in the country a short time, had two small children, and was trying to make it all work but also trying to have a life of her own. I think a lot of people can relate to the push-pull of wanting more, against the odds.

What do you feel is the best starting point for a writer who just finished the first draft of their script? With Silicon Curve, for example, what was your next step? Is there any hesitancy when you decide the script is ready and it’s time to circulate it to industry, platforms like Script Pipeline, etc.?

I think the best place to start when you’ve got a solid first draft–like professional, no typos, on point with the formatting and act breaks–is to submit to contests. Despite any hesitancy, if you’ve done your best, I think at some point you just have to jump in. I sought out contests that have a reputation for giving good notes. Script Pipeline was one of the first contests I entered. And when I say good notes, I don’t mean notes that just tell you all the positive things about your work. I mean solid, constructive, sometimes uncomfortable notes that help you grow and better your story.

From the polished, ready-to-move-forward draft, I kept entering and rewriting and moved from quarterfinalist, to semifinalist, up the ranks until I won a couple of times. Eventually, you get to a place where the notes are from execs or a manager and they say OK, let’s leave it alone, we have it where we want it. That can be a little scary because I’m the kind of person who would reach into the television to tweak the dialogue if I could. And then always be working on the next thing.

Full disclosure: you have a family, you have kids. . . not unlike a lot of working writers. It isn’t just about carving time to write, we realize. It’s about carving time and getting in the right frame of mind. Everyone has their own creative system. What’s yours?

For me, it’s all about compartmentalizing. I’ve always got this side brain thing going, like a backburner always thinking about the script rewrite, or the new pilot. It helps to honestly identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know I’m a morning person, so I save mornings and afternoons for writing and use nights for things like online classes or webinars or emails. It helps to surround yourself with people who don’t mind non-sequitur talk about your script. Ideas come when they come, so I jot down notes in my phone a lot, bits of dialogue, a conflict to work out, a new scene.

As for getting in the right frame of mind, for me, that’s a luxury I can’t afford. It’s work. Yes, it’s work that I love but, nonetheless, it’s work that needs to get done no matter what my frame of mind is. There are much better writers out there who are always in the right frame of mind, so I have to put myself there no matter what else is going on. I give myself deadlines, sometimes contest deadlines, fellowship deadlines, and now, get new pages to the manager deadlines. Also, I learned a trick from a guy I met who wrote for Rolling Stone, he said he always quits working for the day while he’s in the middle of writing a scene. Quit while you have something going so that when you come back to the page, you are instantly engaged in a scene that is already on its way. It works for me. Also typing with my kids on my lap is an undervalued skill that I’m hoping becomes an Olympic sport because I’m getting kind of good at it.

And lastly, I think it’s important to make a commitment to yourself to push forward, to find the time to work on your craft and not give up.

Heidi Nyburg

A television and film writer originally from Silicon Valley, Heidi attended the UCLA Professional Programs in both screenwriting and writing for television and studied with Richard Walter and John Sweet. She focuses on dramatic one-hour shows that explore themes of independence, grief, and sometimes, murder. Her pilots and features have placed in several respected contests, including her feature Mock Draft, which made the top 10% at the Academy Nicholl Fellowship, and Silicon Curve, based loosely on the career of her mother, which won the 2017 Script Pipeline First Look Project. Heidi has written and produced sketches and short films and produced a feature film, the coming of age comedy Always Learning, currently seeking distribution. She is managed by Sonia Gambaro of Pollinate Entertainment.

Follow Heidi: Twitter

Tripper Clancy (Part 2)

By | Exclusive Interviews

Tripper won the 2009 Screenwriting Competition with his comedy Henry the Second. Soon after, he signed with manager Jake Wagner, leading to several studios projects sold and writing assignments with major companies. His action-comedy Stuber stars Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, and Iko Uwais. As his career continues to burn a path through Hollywood, he’s juggling multiple projects in both film and TV.

It’s been almost 10 years (…I know—that went fast) since you won the 2009 Screenwriting Competition with what was, and still is, one of the best grounded comedies we’ve read in Henry the Second. A lot has happened over that span, but everything seemed to get rolling when you signed with manager Jake Wagner. What was it that clicked? What do writers, of all levels, need to keep in mind when considering representation? 

The goal with representation—and this applies to a manager or an agent—is finding someone who actually wants to represent you as a writer and not just one piece of material you’ve written that might have a chance of selling. Unfortunately, when you’re starting out in the industry, you don’t have much choice in who reps you. You take anyone you can get, and oftentimes that person doesn’t share your vision for what your career path should look like.

I’ve enjoyed working with Jake because we have a very candid relationship, so even when I disagree with his opinion, we can have a healthy debate about it. The cold truth about representation is that when you book projects and generate income, your reps work harder for you. So the trick is finding reps that will work their ass off for you even if you’re in a slump because they know you can write your way out of it.

After winning the contest, you took part in the Fox writing program. The Ambassadors and Winter Break followed. Both were picked up. How did the program help push you forward, both in your development as a writer and your knowledge of the industry?

The Fox Writers Studio was an unbelievable experience, and I’m still friends with (and even working with) several people from that program. I’d say the most educational part of that job was working directly with studio execs at Fox, pitching them feature ideas, developing the script with them, getting their insights on a weekly basis. . . . When you’re writing a spec, you’re alone on an island, and you have no idea what producers or studio execs will think of your work. So at Fox, getting a constant window into their thought process was invaluable and definitely changed the way I think about movie concepts from a macro level.

Regardless of the fact you’re able to make a living off of writing, there’s surely a bit of frustration when a project is sold but goes unproduced, even if that’s a reality every writer recognizes. Is it easy to brush it off and move on?

No. It’s never easy to brush off a project that dies on the vine. You spent an extraordinary amount of time writing and rewriting it. A lot of times it can be really heartbreaking because there are a million ways for a feature project to fail and it’s almost never for the reason you might think. The only thing I can do is remind myself how fortunate I am to get to do this for a living, so if/when a project gets a green light, I can consider it a huge bonus. I also find it helpful not to dwell on projects after you hit send on the email and turn it into the studio. At that point, it’s out of your hands and up to the movie gods, so all you can do is move on and focus on the next thing.

Henry the Second has had some veterans (Shawn Levy and 21 Laps) shepherding it for years. What have been the diversions in getting it made?

21 Laps is still on board. It’s been a long, strange trip and I’m still hopeful that it’ll get made one day. I can’t tell you exactly why it hasn’t been made yet. We’ve come very close several times, but I think it has a lot to do with the tetris game of finding the right piece of talent for the right price who’s available at the right time and that has the right potential upside for the marketplace. Any original project that’s not based on IP has a tough road ahead, so the obstacles we’ve faced on Henry are not that uncommon. Some pretty amazing films took forever to get made, so who knows?

You sold the feature action-comedy Stuber to Fox, starring Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, and Iko Uwais. What was the process like from idea, to finished script, to getting such stellar talent attached?

Around December of 2015 my manager, Jake, sent me an email with a title (Stuber) and all he knew was maybe there was a comedy version of Collateral about an Uber driver named Stu. I have a deep love of 80s action comedies, and the characters, storyline and structure hit me immediately.

The next morning, I put together a three-page treatment and then a month or so later I had a draft of the script. It took a minute to find the right producers, and then in April of 2016, the script went out to every buyer in town, which led to Fox buying the script. After that, I did a couple of passes for the studio, and then our director, Michael Dowse, came on board, had some more notes, and then it was a matter of finding the right cast for it, which is its own rollercoaster.

I give all the credit to Dowse, the producers, and our exec at Fox for believing in the project and helping Kumail, Dave, and the rest of the cast see how much fun this movie could be. Most things in development at studios will never make it into production, which really makes you beyond grateful when it actually comes together.

Adapting a book to a screenplay with The Art of Fielding: is it a different beast, or not necessarily? How closely do you work with the author of the material, if at all?

Adapting a book is a slightly different process than working on an original idea. For starters, you have to determine how much the producers/studio execs love the material. Sometimes a place might own the rights to a book, but they’ll tell the writer: “All we really like is the basic concept, so feel free to use creative license for the rest.” The Art of Fielding is one of my favorite books of all time—I read it several years before it even became a potential job—so the producers and director and I all agreed that we’d try to stay as true to the novel as possible.

Novels don’t always have a traditional three-act structure, which is more common in features, so the first major decision is figuring out how to structure it as a movie. I spoke with the author a few times during the outline phase, which was super helpful, but then with each draft, I found myself needing to distance myself from the source material. At some point you have to ask yourself: “Am I writing the best adaptation or the best movie?” And that might mean cutting things you adore from the book or creating an extra scene here or there to bridge a storyline.

With a novel like The Art of Fielding, the characters are so rich and so layered that the most challenging obstacle for me was figuring out how to keep the thing under 125 pages.

There have been a number of other scripts—Hacker Camp with Hasbro, Stranded for Sony—all features. All comedies or a variation thereof. Is TV on the horizon? Directing?

I think every screenwriter hopes to direct one day. I will likely cross that bridge down the line, but director jobs don’t grow on trees, so I will have to wait for the right opportunity. I actually feel like producing is a kind of a parallel skillset to screenwriting, since you’re almost always wearing a producer hat, asking yourself if a particular assignment is a good fit for you, or if a spec idea has a strong enough concept to find a studio home, having to interface with studio execs, managing expectations, etc.

TV is definitely something I’d like to get into and I have one project now that’s in its early stages, but just like features, it’s not easy to get a project off the ground, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Dream project to write. . . .

I love writing comedies, but I always find myself gravitating toward more serious subject matter. I’m currently writing a spec that’s pretty much a dream project. It’s based on a true story and it’s not remotely funny. Will it be any good? I’d like to hope so, but who the hell knows? It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone, which is something all writers should try from time to time. Be willing to suck every once in a while!

I guess for me a “dream project” is defined as anything that I’d be pumped to see on screen, so it’s a bit of a moving target as my tastes change.

Million dollar question—and we probably know the answer. There’s no real secret to all this, right? Part timing, part skill, part luck? Should be noted, too, that you’ve always been the most gracious and modest writer we’ve come across, and that truly goes a long way in maintaining and growing a flawless reputation in Hollywood.

However, beyond the intangibles, how does a writer get noticed and stay noticed? Meaning, we always hear about the ways writers can break in, whether it’s through a discovery platform like Script Pipeline or by catching the attention of someone in an influential position, but how do you keep the fire going once you have that spark?

No simple answer here. Work ethic is a huge part of it. There’s that famous quote: “I hate writing, but I love having written.” I’ve seen that with a lot of aspiring screenwriters. They fall in love with the romantic notion of being a screenwriter more than actually being a screenwriter. It’s a job. It’s a grind. And if you aren’t willing to generate new ideas and write new pages, you’re susceptible to having a short career.

Another part of the equation that helps is if you can avoid being an asshole. I know that sounds obvious, but the notes process on a script can be daunting and exhausting, and you’ll feel like people are trying to tear down all the great work you’ve done, but you have to keep your composure and keep the debate constructive. Remind yourself that everyone involved wants the best version of this script, so if there’s a disagreement, find a polite way to get to the heart of it without making enemies and burning bridges.

Lastly, I’d say you have to find a way to put yourself in a mental state where you’re willing to absorb the ups and the downs of the job. Don’t celebrate too hard on the highs, and don’t get too depressed with the lows. Be humble and recognize that anyone who’s willing to cut you a check is helping you extend this absurd fantasy of being a screenwriter.

Tripper Clancy

After working in the Fox Writers Studio in 2011, Tripper has gone on to write comedies and dramas of all shapes and sizes for Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Fox Animation, Paramount Animation, Hasbro, Amazon, and studios abroad. His original spec script, Stuber, sold to Fox in April of 2016 and stars Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista. He is also adapting the New York Times’ bestselling novel, The Art of Fielding, for producer Mike Tollin and Mandalay Sports Media, with Craig Johnson directing. Tripper has written two foreign language films, including Wolfgang Petersen’s German bank heist comedy, Four Against the Bank, which released in 2016.

Tripper lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Maggie, and their daughters, Olive and Ruby.

Follow Tripper: Twitter

Dan Perlman

By | Exclusive Interviews

Winner of Script Pipeline’s 11th Great TV Show Idea Competition with the animated comedy pitch Pro Losers, Dan is a multifaceted talent–a writer, director, and stand-up comicScript Pipeline reviewed the pilot script based on the Pro Losers concept and gave it a Recommend, later circulating the material to industry partners. Dan’s pilot episode for his award-winning series Flatbush Misdemeanors also received high marks, with Script Pipeline execs calling it “a low-key comedy carving its own road within the genre. . . a sort of dry, eccentric hybrid of High MaintenanceAtlanta, and Louie.”

As a writer and comic, how did you first get involved in the entertainment industry? Was it writing first, then stand-up comedy? In either case, how have both of them fueled or shaped the other?

Since I was a kid, I wanted to do stand-up. Just took a while to work up the courage. I was more comfortable writing early on, because you didn’t have to be in front of people, but stand-up’s always been the goal. I started writing sketches in college, then post-college. It was just a way to work a different muscle and put out jokes that didn’t work in a stand-up context. I’d been doing stand-up for a couple years when I had an idea for a narrative show, That’s My Bus!, and just started writing it on spec, then worked on it with a friend, before a network took interest. Stand-up’s my favorite thing—that’s what I do every night. I love writing and making projects, too, so hopefully they can continue to complement each other at higher levels. It’s fun as you gain confidence to sorta cut the bullshit and get to what you actually want to talk about and want to spend time figuring out how to talk about—in both stand-up and in writing. You also get funnier, sharper, more present. . . they’re very different skill-sets, but each one helps the other, just keeping your mind active and creating.

You’re a Script Pipeline contest winner, so we’re obviously fans of your writing and soon became fans of Flatbush Misdemeanors, the series you co-wrote, co-directed, and co-produced. The challenges in content creation—whether it’s a short film, a pilot episode, or a feature—are clear. Budget and time being perhaps the most important. What did you learn from creating Flatbush? What were the “niche” hurdles that up-and-coming writer/directors might not realize? How do you best prepare?

Having no budget is obviously a huge hurdle, but it sorta forced us to be more creative. A lot of the elements that have become some of our favorite features of Flatbush—the chapter divides, the subtitles—came from us having to scrap other ideas that would’ve required a budget. Working with people you trust is so important. Kevin Iso (my collaborator, co-everything, on Flatbush) and I are both stand-ups. Every adult we cast is a stand-up, friends we know and love and have a sense of their voices, which helps with the writing. Stand-ups know who they are, so if you make them comfortable, they’ll make the end product better. Kareem Green, Aparna Nancherla, Drew Dowdey, Yamaneika Saunders, Kerry Coddett, Jeffrey Joseph, and more. They all did that. People we trust helped make the vibe on-set more comfortable as well, which just ups everyone’s performance.

There are going to be a million challenges, especially when you’re doing an independent thing on no budget. People’s schedules changing, location issues, all that. We write, direct, star, and produce it—it all leaves you spread very thin, handling the logistics in particular. The more help with that producing aspect, the more present you can be pre and during filming. Otherwise, you’ll realize on the way home an alt line that would’ve made the scene better, but you don’t have money or time for reshoots, so that’s it, onto the next. Heavily scripting the scene, running it with the actors as much as time allows before shooting, letting the lines settle into the actors’ voices so it feels natural, and making the vibe for the crew and cast comfortable on set. It’s all good experience. The more stuff I make, the more confident I feel in the process, because you’ve been through it before. Yeah, I’m just excited for that to continue.

The pilot you sold to Fox, That’s My Bus!, didn’t make it to series, however it must have represented a big step forward in your career. Did hitting a wall with a network (which, let’s be honest, is entirely common given the nature of television) change your approach at all with regards to the type of stories you write and develop? Or did this reaffirm that you were indeed on the right path?

It just gave me more motivation and direction. It meant a lot to get it to that pilot stage. That was the first pilot I’d ever written. To have FOX buy it—when no one knows who I am—was unexpected and cool, then to get to co-executive produce it as well. If/when I’m fortunate to be in a spot like that again, I’ll have gone through all of the steps before, so I’ll keep getting better at that side of it. The whole experience made me a better writer, creator, collaborator, and the fact that it didn’t go to series helped continue to motivate me in stand-up.

The only “change approach” sorta thing was co-creating/releasing Flatbush after that. When you work on a pilot for a network, you clear all these hurdles and work through all of these steps, and then, if it doesn’t go, no one gets to see the thing. It doesn’t exist. Putting out Flatbush, there was some feeling of, even if only 20 people see it, that’s something. We’re putting something out there and people can react to it and interact with it. It’s something that’ll exist. We’ve been fortunate to get some attention with Flatbush, awards and stuff [the first episode of Flatbush Misdemeanors became Oscar-qualified after winning the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Short at the Florida Film Festival]. The goal for this project is to make it a narrative half-hour for television, so we’ll see.

When coming up with new ideas and developing a series (or film), how much consideration do you give to the current marketplace? Do you pay attention to what’s selling, what’s thriving, what’s not getting picked up, and alter your course to suit the environment? Is it crucial for a writer to stick with the trends or try and, more or less, create a new trend?

The trends seem to change quickly and no one really knows what they want until everyone else wants it. If I altered course every time there was a new hit everyone was telling me to watch and tried to write a watered-down version of that, I don’t think I’d enjoy that process or grow much in terms of finding and honing my own voice.

I’d feel pretentious as hell if I said what writers should or shouldn’t do. All I can really speak to is my (limited) experience. I make the stuff I find interesting, that I’d want to see, stuff that I hope is funny and distinct and has its own feel. I like hitting different notes and pushing myself, both in stand-up and in writing/creating stuff. There’s so much I want to do and a lot of ’em will feel different, but hopefully it’ll all mesh together over my career. That’s the hope. And that I can build an audience of people who are into what I’m doing, as a stand-up who makes things. I don’t know. I have a lot more specific thoughts on this. . . if you’re reading this, nice reader, feel free to reach out if you’d like to talk about it more, otherwise we can just leave it here with me speaking vaguely on Script Pipeline’s site.

From your perspective—living in NYC, which, like Los Angeles, is one of the most competitive cities for creativity and talent—how does one make themselves seen and heard? No doubt you’ve seen uber-artistic people fall by the wayside. What’s the common denominator in the ones who succeed? How important is it to attract champions for your work and use that as both motivation and another stepping stone forward?

I’m not sure there is much of a common denominator. Sometimes it feels like complete anarchy out here. I just keep doing stand-up and making things and pushing myself to go further and not get complacent. Yeah, like you said, there are so many crazy funny, talented people who fall off. Talent feels kinda meaningless. It’s just relentlessness and some internal drive that can put you in a better position, maybe. And ideally you can find some enjoyment in the process from internal growth rather than external validation only. That’s easier said than done, but I give it a shot. Feeling that I can articulate an idea in stand-up better than I could have a year ago, fleshing out a premise on-stage or in a script, getting a better reaction for something that actually feels relevant to you—that’s all fuel.

I set goals, short and long-term, internal and external. That might be a cliche answer. If someone else said that to me when I was first starting, I’d probably think they were blowing me off, but that’s really all there is to do. Finding people who really believe in what you’re doing is rare and hugely beneficial, and I’m grateful whenever I’ve found that.

Oftentimes it can feel like no one’s listening. If you find people who listen and hear what you’re saying and seem to get you, don’t take that for granted.

Dan Perlman

Dan is a stand-up comedian and writer from New York City, performing stand-up every night at some of the top clubs and alternative rooms in the city, headlining Caroline’s on Broadway in 2018. Dan created and wrote an animated series, That’s My Bus!, which received a pilot order from FOX after winning 1st place at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival. Dan has appeared on TruTV, MTV2, and as a cast member on MTV’s Vidiots. As a writer-filmmaker, he has had four projects featured in the New York Television Festival, most recently the award-winning comedy series Flatbush Misdemeanors in which he co-stars and co-writes/directs. On radio, Dan was a writer for SiriusXM’s Bennington and Comedy Contributor for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio. Dan wrote for the 2017 WGA Awards, hosted by Lewis Black, and the 2018 WGA Awards, hosted by Amber Ruffin. As a stand-up, Dan’s festival credits include New York Comedy Festival, SF Sketchfest, Boston Comedy Festival, Limestone Comedy Fest, and Finger Lakes Comedy Competition (2015, 1st place).

View the first episode of Flatbush Misdemeanors on Vimeo.

Follow Dan: Twitter | Instagram

Jay Silverman

By | Exclusive Interviews

Script Pipeline met director/producer Jay Silverman (The Cleaner) in 2015 and connected him and producer Bethany Cerrona with Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest finalist Jen Goldson (Everything’s Gonna Be Okay). Jay went on to produce Jen’s romantic comedy Off the Menu in 2017. The film premiered in 2018 and stars Santino Fontana and Dania Ramirez. It’s available on Amazon and iTunes.

You started your career as a photographer. How did you make the transition to the film/TV industry? Was it a logical next step given the types of connections you were making and the work you were doing, or did it take sort of a leap?

Yes, I started as a photographer doing advertising. My speciality was working with people and celebrity endorsements. The transition into film started in the 90s when I began doing what I called hybrid filmmaking. It certainly seemed natural to offer live action along with my photography when a famous person’s time on commercial sets are always so limited. It was a huge leap at the start, but my clients enjoyed the synergy and the creative control I gave them. I decided to make the move to feature directing with Girl on the Edge (2015), which was a very personal story. The motivation to make it  was one of wanting to share my experience of healing and to show others who have children who suffer trauma and PTSD that there are answers. . . there is hope. Everything I had done in my career and life up to this point prepared me for the opportunity to tell this story. It felt like such a natural transition, and now telling purposeful films has become my calling.

What were some of the early hurdles in becoming a director (for TV, commercials, or otherwise)? When crossing between different formats, which of course can be a challenge creatively speaking, what drew you to each? And now, with decades of experience, has a preference emerged? Or is directing just directing, no matter the medium?

I always enjoyed problem solving throughout my career, especially when a client would ask for the impossible. Universally, most challenges for TV and commercials involved trying to retain a focused creative vision while dealing with limited budgets and quick turnaround. In the 80s, I got my first studio and was fortunate to solve creative challenges without having to go outside of a studio. This control proved invaluable working in independent filmmaking and selling TV shows. Hence, the reason in 2000 I acquired my stages in Hollywood.

One huge hurdle I had was trying to sell The Cleaner to AMC after developing it for five years. It came as a shock to learn that even though this was my baby, I would never receive “created by” credits. The fact that we had offers for this show twice in two months proved it was a great idea, but not being treated fairly was a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

To be a good director in both TV or film, you need to be a good listener. So many creative people are involved in such detail on a film that it’s important to be open to their expertise and knowledge. It’s about taking all the best ideas to make the project better and to collaborate. Also, it was very helpful that I am knowledgeable in every trade on the set. I’m very hands-on and am never afraid to lift a hammer or hang a light or learn to compromise with budgets.

You met writer Jen Goldson at our 2015 Script Pipeline event, and it seemed like her screenplay Off the Menu was optioned instantly. What was it about the script that stood out? 

First,  I believe a person’s passion is the most critical to sell anything. Jen not only had a great pitch that made her stand out, but she totally displayed a desire to want her project in the hands of a filmmaker with equal passion. My producer Bethany Cerrona brought the script on the heels of my last film, which was a serious drama. Timing is everything, and I was excited to jump into this contemporary love story, as Jen’s writing style was very engaging, funny, and inspiring.

Off the Menu went from Jen’s initial pitch to you and exec Bethany Cerrona, to production, to finished film in about two years. Quick, certainly, relative to the frustratingly slow-ticking industry clock, where it can take a while get a project produced. Naturally, it’s easier for a lower-budget indie to hit that fast lane, however what were some of the crucial pieces that had to fall into place? Or was it fairly straightforward? If anything is ever “fairly straightforward” in filmmaking. . . .

Every film is different and presents its own set of challenges. After optioning the script, we met with Jen several times about small changes. Just coming off my last film with new wisdom and experience, we had to figure out a way to get this wonderful script produced affordably without sacrificing the story.

Will Newman, one of my producers, had warned about the cost of having too many characters and locations when making a indie. We mandated early on that to keep the authenticity of the story, it had to shoot, at least partially, on location in New Mexico, so that decision pushed many other decisions into the forefront. Being that Javiara’s kitchen was a character itself, our Production Designer Bonnie Bacevich was able to have full creative freedom on my stage. This decision not only saved us loads of time and money but helped me fulfill my creative vision without all the distractions of using a practical restaurant location. Careful thought and consideration was made to the changes needed to be made to the script to scale down for the budget, which kept faithful to Jen’s original story.

The cast of Menu really seemed to click on-screen. Especially the leads. How did Dania Ramirez and Santino Fontana come on board?

We had an amazing casting director, Nick Anderson. The script went out to Dania and we both met for coffee, and she was excited because she too loved cooking. I knew she would make a perfect fiery chef, and she loved the script, so the timing was perfect.

Around the same time, we were introduced to Santino via Skype from NYC and he also loved the script. And as luck would have it, he was able to fit us in between his show Crazy Ex Girlfriend and his Broadway opening. Once we had Dania and Santino, the rest of the cast fell into place fairly easily.

Every director and producer is different. Everyone leans toward certain themes. But what motivates you to continue directing and producing? What excites you most about the future of the industry?

I’m totally drawn into filmmaking by my desire to share inspiring stories. It’s beyond words how fortunate I was that my first film Girl On The Edge has changed so many young people’s lives.

I’m committed to working on purposeful films with social messages. It’s critical for me to make films that matter. Films have the ability to cross all borders, to bring hope and unite people. Off the Menu gave me the opportunity to tell a hopeful, sweet story about love and family that unites people from opposite worlds through food.

Along those same lines, where do you see us headed as an industry overall? Thanks to the emergence of more platforms seeking content, are you beginning to see a shift in the type of content distributed, or that has a strong chance at getting distribution on an indie level? 

I think all these new digital ways of sharing content are likely how most small films will survive, but it’s a bit of a wild west. . . with so many new films/TV shows getting made, it’s harder to cut through the clutter and get noticed. With Netflix and Amazon changing the game, we are seeing so many interesting voices that wouldn’t have been possible before in the traditional models.

I’m optimistic that if you have a good story and solid production values, your film will find an audience.

Jay Silverman

Jay has excelled as a leading director and producer specializing in award-winning film and television. In addition to directing and producing Off The Menu, Jay directed and executive produced the award-winning feature Girl on the Edge, starring Peter Coyote, Taylor Spreitler and Gil Bellows. The film premiered on Showtime. Jay also co-created and executive produced A&E’s The Cleaner, starring Benjamin Bratt, an hour-long drama based on a real life interventionist who uses unorthodox methods to save lives of those who battle addictions.

Jay lives and works in Los Angeles and has three daughters.

Follow Jay: Twitter

Jen Goldson

By | Exclusive Interviews

Writer Jen Goldson placed as a finalist in the 2015 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition with her screenplay Everything’s Going to be Okay. At the Script Pipeline writer/industry event in Los Angeles that summer, she was introduced to producers Jay Silverman and Bethany Cerrona of Silverman Productions. Her pitch to them for another script, a romantic comedy, stuck. It was optioned right away and produced a little over a year later. Off the Menu was released on February 6th, 2018, starring Santino Fontana (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Frozen) and Dania Ramirez (Once Upon a Time, Devious Maids). Jen continues to write for both film and TV, with several projects in development.

Your screenplay Everything’s Going to be Okay (aka egbok) was selected as a finalist in the 2015 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition. At our industry event that year, you met Jay Silverman and Bethany Cerrona. A couple years later: your first produced film. And a charming one at that. Fill us in on that journey, from initial interest to production.

First of all, thank you for calling Off The Menu “charming”—my first review!

I should add that I met three pivotal contacts at Pipeline’s event: Jay Silverman and Bethany Cerrona plus Jeff Faehnle at Nasser Entertainment. Both of these companies optioned a script of mine with the clear understanding that they were greenlit to go into production. And it happened! Jay directed Off The Menu and Nasser Entertainment produced a thriller I co-wrote with my husband, Robert Foulkes, called Snatched (starring Dina Meyer and Corin Nemec). So I can’t say enough how Pipeline rejuvenated my writing career and am extremely appreciative.

So to answer your question, for Off The Menu, I worked closely with Jay and his team, and did about three or four drafts. The last draft was a pretty solid one and got the stars attached—and then things with the script were further condensed for budget. I felt good that the script drew the caliber of stars such as Santino Fontana, who was just coming off the first season of the fantastic Crazy Ex Girlfriend, and Dania Ramirez, who was great in Devious Maids and now in Once Upon A Time. And not to mention, Maria Conchita Alonso (if you haven’t seen Vampire’s Kiss, it’s a classic), and rising young star Makenzie Moss (who played little Lisa in Steve Jobs).

Writers often wonder what their role is once the final version of the script is locked in, and it typically varies depending on the film. What was the extent of your involvement during the shoot? Were you on location? Were there on-the-spot script edits to make?

Yeah, every movie is different, and on this one, I did a set visit and everyone was really lovely. They even had my name on a director’s chair, they were very sweet and thoughtful. And they also invited me for the music composing session which was really an education for me—they had a live orchestra for the score, and the film’s composer, Dave Holden, is such a talented guy. But for most of production, I really wasn’t that involved. Perhaps things will change as more feature writers come in with a TV background (where writers are often required to be on set). I do find that in the long-run, if the writer is available and willing, it would behoove production to have him/her on set. But hey, I’m hardly impartial.

I always think it has to be such a surreal experience to finally see what you wrote on-screen with real people. . . . At the premiere of the film, what was on your mind? When did it all start to feel “real” to you?

Santino and his lovely wife, Jessica Heshberg (who’s a talented Broadway singer and actress, and also appears in Menu), wrote and performed this really fun, Doris Day type of opening number for Menu and that’s when it became really real. I kept on playing it over and over again. It’s really perfect.

Tell us about the other films you have in development, including your contest-winning script Everything’s Going to be Okay.

So Everything’s Going to Be Okay is currently set up at EMA (Envision Media Arts) with Andy Tennant set to direct. The producers are hopeful that it will go this year! So that’s been a real rewarding outcome on that front. And then I have this LA-based indie film called Rent Control that Theresa Bennet is attached to direct. That script is a personal favorite of mine. My manager, Sukee Chew, has been instrumental in packaging and pushing these projects forward. She was always my first choice to work with and is amazing. And then I’m almost done with a biopic about a famous painting that’s set in Swinging London—that script is killing me. For research materials, I’ve been working with 40 plus books, 200 articles, documentaries, youtube clips. . . I am so sick of these people! (just kidding).

You’ve written a mix of genres, including a TV pilot. Do you think the range is important? Has it made you more “marketable,” in a sense?

Pretty much from the beginning of my writing career I was labeled as a “character comedy writer.” And you know what: I pretty much stayed true to this. Everything I write has some form of humor, even the biopic I’ve been working on, though it’s a drama, I have three witty characters. I will say, as you mentioned, I have that one sci-fi pilot, but even that has humor. My least favorite writers are the earnest ones. I think it just reads false. But as for “range,” I think what’s most important is knowing who you are as a writer. A writer who thinks they can write every genre is not going to perfect any one genre. So know who you are—and that takes time to figure out.

As far as the feature market in general, what are the types of stories you feel are lacking, or do you wish we had more of? Both on an indie and studio level? What themes do you usually gravitate toward?

I wish we’d get away from “female driven” as a genre when women are 50.8% of the U.S. population (yes, I just Googled it). So I’ve recently started calling Dunkirk “male driven” [laughs]. I’m hopeful about the representation of interesting female characters, with recent films such as The Florida Project, Mudbound, Lady Bird, and last year’s The Edge of Seventeen, American Honey and White Girl (and heck, let me throw in the wonderful HBO series Insecure and Amazon’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel).

I’m more attracted to interesting and flawed characters than themes. I don’t write to themes as I find it too limiting, and it feels like a book report.

Getting a spec produced is still, relatively speaking, a rarity. Beyond the typical advice writers hear all the time—write something low-budget, write something broad that appeals to a large market, and so forth—what else can someone do to increase their odds? We know in your case the introduction to a producer helped, but is it all about the script? Are there intangibles writers should keep in mind?

If you want to be a feature writer, the climb will likely be a long one—and may take you about 5-8 scripts to really master feature writing and land you representation (which is more difficult these days). The nice thing about television is there is a ladder of progression. You can start off as a writer’s assistant (if you can get that position, most writer’s assistants have agents—I know!) and then you can go on to staff writer/story editor and so forth. You don’t have any of that in feature films. BUT, and there’s a big but in this, it is very difficult for television writers to creatively make the leap to feature films because they tend to write episodically which you don’t want to do in feature films. So, if your heart is in features, they’re still getting made and go for it!

As for “intangibles,” a producer or director will think a writer is completely green if they get defensive about notes. My best advice for any emerging writer is to work in development and see first hand what producers or film/TV execs go through. You will have a better appreciation for the craft and will have more confidence as a writer.

*Just wanted to thank Script Pipeline again for their support and advocacy with getting two scripts of mine off the ground and actually produced! I think they’re the best in town, and in this day and age, when it’s harder to land representation, screenwriting contests like this are more vital than ever. Go Pipeline!

Jen Goldson

As of 2018, Jennifer has two films produced: the romantic-comedy Off The Menu starring Santino Fontana and Dania Ramirez, directed and produced by Jay Silverman (available on VOD and all other platforms), and the thriller Snatched starring Dina Meyer, Jen Lilley and Corin Nemec (to be released). Another project, Rent Control, is currently being packaged with Theresa Bennett set to direct and Sukee Chew producing. Her feature screenplay Everything’s Going to be Okay was a Script Pipeline Finalist in 2015 and has since been optioned by Envision Media Arts (EMA). Andy Tennant is attached to direct, with Sukee Chew also producing.

She works as a development consultant for MOST Resources, and has also worked at NBCU, in business affairs, and in feature film development at various production companies and studios.