In London, he was the head writer for BBC's Grierson Awards, and in L.A. worked on BBC's HU$TLE, In Plain Sight and Three Rivers. He ran a Fulbright Theatre program in Egypt and was the Resident Playwright at The Library of Alexandria -- researching, writing and debuting his play, A Matter of Fact, on the destruction of the Ancient Library and the creation of the Abrahamic myths. Recently, he was invited on the Tel Aviv TV/Film Masterclass.
He's oddly a Maitre Fromagger, and is currently writing a movie with Jeffs Marx (Ave Q) & Witzke.
How did you break in?
There are a number of different times I "broke in"... and am finding that it's not like there's one big door to walk through, but a Japanese house of paper walls that needs to be navigated and broken through again and again... I started in the theatre and told the producer of a national tour of one of my favorite Broadway shows that I know the show front to back, love it, and would work for cheap... And I worked my ass off all summer... and suddenly I never stopped working in NY. Then, when I moved out to LA to do TV, I had met tons of people, but still never got that job-- for two years. But I was determined not to be anyone's assistant anymore, as that is a black hole of a world where I've seen friends stay stuck for 5 years on, thinking they're in a PERFECT position... I was also just tired of answering phones that weren't for me... So I would write my plays and pilots in the morning and work as maitre fromagger [cheese-monger] at a cheese shop in the afternoon/evenings... And I loved cheese and wanted to know all about it, so it was a bit of a perfect idea for a short-term/pay-the-bills and learn something useful job.
THEN, one-day, my roommate who was working on a show said they needed a script coordinator. She told them I could do it. They brought me in... We talked about EVERYTHING except the job... They, as anyone I've ever met who's hired me, couldn't give a shit about your abilities... they assume you can do it (or they'll fire you immediately). They want someone who they want to hang out with 6 days a week from 9 to 9... They literally said, sometime after their assistant said they had to wrap it up, "I mean you can do the job, right?" I joked that I was color blind and often mixed up the revision pages, and that I prefer to do my own pass on the script before it goes out... they laughed and asked when I could start... seriously... And I didn't totally know what I was doing either... because this town is a shitbox for growth... They wont hire you unless you've done it before... so I suggested what I did at the BBC was basically their equivalent of Script Coordinator (a bit of CV sleight-of-hand)... and when I got the job, I had two of my genius friends who were already script coordinators on gchat all day, for those moments when I had no idea what I was doing.
What is a Script Coordinator?
A script coordinator (not to be confused with the Script Supervisor: the ubiquitously cantankerous stage-managery woman with the binder on-set, sitting next to the director) is the guy, or girl... or gender ambiguous person who is charge of every script document for the production. Anything that the show puts out to the studio, the network, or the cast/crew... The "story area" - an idiotically named document that's basically a one to two-page early look at the episode's plots, it's characters, it's themes... like a pre-outline... Then the outline... then the script. The writers/showrunners finish it, send it to me, I then look it over for everything from tedious shit like formatting, spelling and punctuation (their/there/they're)... to clarity (Always nice to read scene headings that read "the first whispers of tomorrow" but then I have to go, on behalf of the lighting guy, and say "alright, day or night?")... consistency ("she said last episode she was allergic to peanuts, she's eating pb& j in this scene). Then there are bigger notes that, if you have a good relationship with the writer/producer, are often quite welcome as you might be the first person to read it with a bit of objectivity, and still a full encyclopedic knowledge of the story and characters ("This seems like an over-reaction" ... "This feels like an odd Act break." ... "Would a three-year old really know the word Inter-uterine?"). And remember, they all want to look good to the studio/network... so if you can help catch anything from misspellings to wonky scenes, before it potentially embarrasses your team -- always good.
Then, when there are revision pages (blue, pink, yellow, green, goldenrod, salmon, buff, cherry -- and the rarely used colors that I lobby for on every show: mulatto, maize & mauve) it's the script coordinator's job to make sure that the changes are integrated, mesh with the existing script, and the proper pages are issued and distributed. The ADs and that cantankerous Super will do a genius job of finding things you didn't or things that seemed fine in script form, but pragmatically are illogical. That's the part to remember, that you hand production this 30-60 page document, and they have to then make it happen... every word... in real three-dimensional life... often by tomorrow morning. So, helping maintain and communicate the writers vision entails a lot of back and forth with a talented crew. This gets tricky with the asinine world of legal name clearances and Standards & Practices, which also falls under my jurisdiction... then, in many cases, you're spending lots of time coming up with character names that clear, names the art department can use for the Ice Truck Company, or... sadly... pushing back against people at the network who don't see the show as any sort of artistic venture, but just a way to sell soap, and you often have to fight for things on the writer's behalf... but it has that noble guildsman, fighting for good, brotherhood of man feeling to that. I had to switch out "pissed" because it "connoted urination" for "blows" which obviously connotes... fellatio.
I also pride myself on being the show dramaturg in a sense, something that doesn't often exist in television. I have a background in research and enjoy those kind of projects, especially in service of enriching and contextualizing the world of the show. And finally, when you get the locked air masters of the episode... making a show Bible with the eye for it being a fully-functional reference tool for the writers. Honestly, I think of it in terms of the fact that, one day I'm going to be running my show and churning out idiotic numbers of pages... and having to look at casting and dailies and cuts and stories... and I would want someone who really cares and is watching my back... so I try to very earnestly be that for them... in the delicate circle of life.
And eventually, if you're lucky... you'll get to write a scene... or re-write a scene... or an act... or pitch story ideas... and that makes the rest worth it.
... until you're re-written... by a little twat script coordinator.
I can't imagine anyone would care about my answer to this question, and I feel a bit like David Brent being interviewed by Inside Paper, even answering this with any hubris-educing sincerity... And are we talking about my job on a network series... or writing of my own pilots and plays which scare even left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual, pornographers? On the show, I think when it comes to characters and stories ... having lived a bit of a life is important. Nice vague platitude, Bonsignore. But, when hiring... they know what it's like to be a white guy in college who loves 30 rock and has a spec of mad men... I feel it helps to have some experience thats - if not interesting - is at least specific... As grating as it is to be canonized as "The cheese guy who worked at the BBC" or "The playwright from Egypt" or "The gay guy from Texas"... It is perspective, a something that - if not genuinely - at least feels like it adds a different voice to the room.
How have your life experiences shaped your writing?
And, in the room, having a dynamic understanding of people (psychologically, sociologically, anthropologically) beyond just the tropes that fill up the airwaves does provide fodder for contributing something to the authenticity of the people who populate your show. This will all be sieved out eventually by the studio & network, but hey, for that five minutes you're waxing about that guy you met in tribeca who was married, but you knew if you didn't kiss him it would be a life unlived... versus creating another medical mystery where our heroes save the day again... I mean, that's the job, isn't it? Pushing... day-in, day-out... I most often find myself on the "kill him" side of things... the one who doesn't want things to turn out nice, who wants our main characters to fuck up, who want to see nice people raped... or raping others... And I think that comes from the theatre... and working outside big box store america... where complexity and ambiguity is welcomed, not incorrectly regarded as a goof.