From GoodFellas to Breaking Bad with Stephen Molton

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From GoodFellas to Breaking Bad with Stephen Molton

Jake: Today on the podcast, I have a special guest, Steve Molton. Steve is a mentor here at Jacob Krueger Studio, and he’s also just an extraordinarily amazing human being and writer.

He’s a Bloomsbury Press Pulitzer Prize Nominee, he’s a former HBO and Showtime executive, he just did a movie with Frank Pugliese, and he’s a general badass.

Today we’re going to be talking about not just how cool Steve is, but also about TV Drama.

We’re living in a golden age of television, and Steve comes with vast experience. He teaches our TV Drama Weekend that’s coming up March 30th and 31st,  as well as our ProTrack Mentorship program.

TV Drama with Steve Molton

So, Steve, I’d love for you to start by talking a little bit about how is it different today than it was a few years ago. Where are the opportunities now?

Steve: That’s a great question. As you know, we’re in yet another golden age. I guess we could probably describe it as a third golden age, because there was the initial one in the ’50s, and then in the ’70s and ’80s, cable transformed everything.

And then, there were suddenly a thousand different platforms, and that has given rise to an immense number of shows at any given moment. It has also given rise to web series, to the short form, which we hadn’t seen before.

And that opens up a vista for writers, of a kind that no other form of writing does at this point, partly because the appetite is amazingly large for all these companies.

Everybody wants to brand themselves, and the most secure way to brand themselves is to create their own series.

There has never been more opportunity for original voices as right now.

Jake: Yeah, it’s very exciting. Writing feature-length drama is much different than writing television drama.

Steve: There’s the rub!  That’s the fascination. And you and I have had experience in both worlds. I always like to position this process as who is the writer in society at this point?

And one of the fascinating things, if we go back to our old Greek or Roman heritage, is that we discover pretty quickly this very intimate relationship between the law in a democratic society and the storytellers.

And that all began, as you know, you’re sitting there smiling because you know all too well, it began with something that the Greek called the Agon.

When the Greeks, 2,500 years ago, they were trying to train people in the system of jurisprudence, they’d bring all these people down to Athens once a year, and they’d talk to them about how you serve in a jury, and what the law was, and why this was a cornerstone of the free society, etc.

But then, at night, they’d put on tragedies. And what we now know as, sort of, the origin of sitcoms.

Strangely enough, we don’t think of sitcoms as being 2,500 years old, but they were!  They are.

In the middle of the dramas and tragedies– there are about 22 of them left to us for us to look at– but in the middle of each of these dramas there was something called the Agon, which was really like intermission where the people who had come down to learn about their judicial system would debate the kinds of issues that had been raised in the drama itself.

And it was out of the Agon that the idea of the protagonist and the antagonist were born.

What we often assume is that the protagonist is inherently the good guy. But the reality, all the way back to the Greeks, as it wasn’t really the good person. It was the moral contestant. It was the person who was sort of caught in between.

One of the best evocations of that in older literature is Hamlet.  This guy is a moral mess. He’s back and forth between this choice and that choice, and to be or not to be, and yadda yadda.

But if you flash forward to somebody like Henry Hill in GoodFellas– and Henry is a guy I actually encountered in meetings at Showtime, if you can believe, when he was in the Witness Protection Program– Henry Hill, despite the fact that the normal world for GoodFellas is a skeevy, funky, deadly world, Henry Hill is ultimately the one that’s just a little bit better than the rest of them.

And that’s why Scorsese drives the whole film with Henry’s voice-over because he’s the moral contestant. He isn’t quite exactly sure if he is who he thinks he is, and of course, his identity is completely flushed into the open by the end of the movie.

So, I always try to encourage my students not to think in terms of these strict boundaries of good and evil, but to realize we’re in a protracted journey with the protagonist.

And that, of course, takes us to: what’s the difference between movies and TV?

You and I have talked a lot about this. The primary difference between movies and TV for me is that a movie is about a character who changes, and television is about a character who procrastinates.

Jake: [Laughs].

Steve: A movie is a journey, a movie is a product, a movie is all built on an outcome, and it’s driven mainly by imagery and the relationship of character to action, because what we’re really dealing with is rates of change– and we’ll talk about that in a few minutes.

A series is really about a world, it’s about a habitat. It isn’t really about a product or an outcome. It’s about a world in which characters wrestle with these moral quandaries.

I always try to help students look upon their world as this kind of moral arena. And we have all kinds of postmodern ideas about the word “moral,” but when you get right down to it, all the way back to the Greeks, and right up to today, we are storytelling creatures. We’re constantly wrestling, We’re constantly looking at stories and thinking about stories, and reading them, and watching them.

And the reason is that we’re protagonists in our own moral universe, right?

Jake: Everybody is wrestling with trying to do the best they can in some way.

Steve: Yeah, exactly, and trying to sort out the options: “Well, what if I did that?”In our own minds, we’re always projecting, “What if I made that choice?”

The great thing about films and television is it’s full of people who are making the kinds of choices that we wouldn’t necessarily want to make!  But we get to see the repercussions, right?

It’s a safe way to experience our own moral dilemmas and work through them.

Jake: You know I’ve thought about this a lot.

Steve: Why am I not surprised? [laughs].

Jake: All screenwriting, all TV writing, it’s all political.

Steve: Yeah, [laughs].

Jake: And it is socio-political, right? Like the act of doing it is a social and a political act. We’re actually looking inside ourselves, looking at our society, trying to understand some aspect of it.

But it’s also political in that, regardless of what you put out there, you’re the debate at the water cooler the next day.

You’re raising the questions that are going to be debated throughout the world.

Steve: Exactly! That’s exactly right.

When a student comes to me and says, “Well these are the themes and this is exactly where it rolls…” I think, “Well that’s morally very self-secure!”

But it isn’t going to be a very interesting movie or an interesting series.

I want somebody to be talking to me about their own complex problems, with the questions that they can’t quite answer.

Jake: We talk about engine all the time when it comes to TV Writing.  In a way, the engine is the unresolvable question.

If you have a question and you can resolve it, if you know the answer, if you know the thing that would save the world, then the truth is you don’t have a series.

It’s the unresolved questions, the constant search to try to understand the truth.

Steve: Absolutely, absolutely! And that’s why the world of the series is such a vastly important thing when you’re starting to conceive of a TV Drama.

Because what you’re really talking about is a world as a moral arena, as a moral universe, and you think about the specific kinds of choices a character can make within that moral arena.

I always say that writing a movie or making a movie is really about building a journey. And writing a TV Series is about living in a building–with all these people living in all these different apartments.

So the world of the show and the characters within it is really the essence of this.

I want to talk about Engine in a few minutes, but that’s precisely it: the array of characters that populate that world.

Just look at genres of television, their habitats: it’s hospitals, it is prisons, it’s the legal system, it is families, it is urban tribes or its conspiracies.

These are the agreed-upon social entities. And in a way, they are also political entities, right?  The politics of the self.

And within that particular world, are a certain set of moral choices that don’t necessarily exist outside that world. But they definitely have things in common with those worlds.

One of the most wonderful things that you talk about, and that I think is so germane here, is that particularly if you’re thinking about movies being about a character who changes and TV about a character who procrastinates, is that it always brings us back to the holdfast ego and the nascent ego.

It’s wild how that keeps happening, again and again.

Jake: Can you run through that real quick for anyone who is listening, who doesn’t know what they are?

Steve: The holdfast ego is the ego you encounter when you wake up in the morning.

You look in the mirror, you’re putting on your makeup or you’re shaving, and you look in the mirror and you say, “Okay that’s Steve Molton, and Steve is this and Steve is that and it’s wonderfully predictable how he’s like that, and I know what he wants every morning, and I know where he comes from, and I know he has been a jerk, you know? Flopping at this and that. And I also know he’s fantastic! And he’s on his way somewhere.”

But it’s basically the guy that you’re familiar with, and the part of you that just wants to keep things steady.

So, we call it the normal world at the beginning of a movie. That’s the holdfast ego.

The nascent ego is that part that lies in all of us, that either secretly wants to change or is at least able to change if sufficiently provoked or inspired. Or is absolutely unable to change and is living with the consequences, so to speak.

But, it’s all about the part of us that wants to change.

In a movie, basically, you’ve got that holdfast ego at the beginning, you’ve got the normal world, and down in there is the nascent ego.

And, you know, when you were talking about that water cooler effect you’re really talking about, the politics of the self.

You’re also talking about the fact that you, as a writer, are basically a moral provocateur.

You’re going to start to torture the protagonist– as you love to say– and what you’re torturing is that very self-certain part of you that says, “This is who I am and nothing is going to change, and nothing can make me change. ‘Nothing’s going to change in my world,’” right?

But the nascent ego is lying inside in a feature film and is ready to be provoked and thrown into action. And by the end of Act One, you actually have to have your character in motion toward change. They’ve got to be proactive.

But if a series is about a character who doesn’t change, but procrastinates, the nascent ego is just not going to be awakened as quickly. And the whole dynamic of Story Engine for me is that the nascent ego starts to want to change. The nascent ego begins to grow within the holdfast ego, and it’s going to overthrow the applecart. But they consistently retreat back into themselves, the way we actually all do in our lives.

We don’t want to change that quickly.

Jake: I always say feature films don’t take place in a world of Realism.

In real life, you have that little part of you that wants to be a writer, and you think, “Maybe next week, I’ll start my script.” And then, you know, “Maybe next month… maybe next year… maybe in two years… maybe when I finish school… maybe when my kids are grown up…”

That’s real life.

And then eventually, you’re 70, and you’re like… “Here I am at Jacob Krueger Studio!

And we love the procrastinators too.

Steve: [Laughs] We don’t care when they’re coming.

Jake: Yes, but that’s real life, right?

Steve: Yeah.

Jake: Or, in real life, we think, “I need to date a different kind of person… I guess I’ll stay in my relationship… Okay, I finally break out of my relationship– nascent ego— I’m going to date someone completely new… Oh shit! I just dated the same person again, in a different form.”

Steve: [Laughs].

Jake: That’s real life that’s Realism. In Realism, we change over 100 years.

And we do change. If you think about who you were when you were in high school, versus who you are today, hopefully, you’ve changed. But the change is very slow.

In movies, the change is very fast. It’s like we cut all that procrastination out in between. We cut out all the repetition, and we force the character to change real fast.

Or, there are some movies where you test– which we won’t get into today– but that work actually more like series where you test the inability to change.

In a series, it’s still Naturalism, it’s still heightened. It isn’t happening in Realism it’s happening in a heightened version called Naturalism that feels like Realism.

But even though a series is happening in that Naturalistic world, the change happens in a way that’s much more like real life. The character sits in who they are for a longer period of time.

Steve: Absolutely, yes!  And yet, you’re constantly provoking your audience into hoping and thinking that they will change.

Jake: Yes, and provoking the character too.

Steve: Exactly, exactly! And that’s why it’s so very important to know your protagonist and to really develop that great sense of the hierarchy of needs in that character.

But also, it’s important to understand that there’s a shadow side to each of those needs and to constantly bring that character up to the threshold of changing, but not ultimately opting to do so.

There’s a great thing that Harold Bloom says about Shakespeare. What was it about Shakespeare?  He was such a breakthrough in the history of human storytelling. And what Harold Bloom said is wonderfully simple and also really complex. He basically said, “Shakespeare created hundreds of protagonists we’d never seen before, who had one great thing in common, they overheard themselves and changed.”

Jake: That’s fabulous.

Steve: They overheard themselves. So you think about, “Well, what are all the different ways in which we overhear ourselves?”

In a movie or in television you use dreams that way, you use people reflecting on something that somebody just said about them and saying, “I’m not that!” And then thinking later that perhaps they are.

You use point of view, you use that wild and interesting difference between the public self and the private self.

If you think about Don Draper, for example, this is a guy whose whole thing is about esteem.

If you think of Maslow’s five needs, his is esteem. He wants to have power, influence, and he wants to be perceived as a man of the world, a man in control of his destiny. He’s very externally motivated.

So what’s the shadow side of that esteem? Shame.

The guy is completely shame-based. And the writers tell us that in those first few episodes.

He isn’t even who he says he is. He has taken on another identity.

He grew up as a son of a woman who had to turn tricks during the depression, and who inculcated him with a shadowy view of himself.

What do the writers do? While Don again, and again, and again, seems to sort of be at peace with himself– he leaves the marriage finally and he finds a woman with whom he doesn’t have to cheat, and he cheats on her– because the shame is irrepressible. The shame is always coming back to life, just when we think he is about to change.

And that’s one of the wonderful things about series: its life-like quality.

When is the guy going to overhear himself and change?

Is it going to be reflected in his new relationship with this new woman who says, “Don,  you aren’t that, you’re this.” Think about it, right?

That’s one of the wonderments of that long-form experience of series.

Jake: You were using the word “procrastinate” before, but what you’re actually talking about is an extraordinarily active form of procrastination.

These characters aren’t sitting around not doing things. These characters are making huge choices. But they consistently don’t make the choice they know they need to make.

Steve: Yes, right. They keep getting themselves in deeper. But we can’t really invest in them if we don’t see them trying to get out of whatever that morass is.

So it is a little bit of a sleight of hand by the writer. They aren’t passive. They aren’t just people who sit there and won’t change.

They say, “beware of a character who is their own worst enemy.” How do you invest in a character like that?

And beware even more of a character who is so passive that things are always just happening to them.

They have to be taking action. We want to see them exerting that holdfast ego and admitting the presence of the nascent ego.

But, if the nascent ego wins, the series is over.

Look at Walter White in Breaking Bad.

White makes a very, very important moral choice. In terms of situational ethics, he basically says, “I’m dying. I need as much money as I can. Where am I going to get it? I’m going to have to be a criminal.”

He tries to sort of hold onto that morally righteous agenda. But the reality of living a life of crime is, in order to do that, he keeps making all the worst possible decisions.

Until some people, who were really big devotees of the show, couldn’t really invest in Walter anymore. Their religion sort of moved over to Jesse because Walter had fallen so deep into his worst self that they couldn’t root for him anymore.

Jake: I think that’s one of the really interesting things about the setup of that show– and this might be a great transition to start to talk about pilots– because if you look at Breaking Bad all the real change happens in the pilot. It happened so fast, right?

We go from mild-mannered science teacher to crystal meth dealer in an hour. And it is so incredible how they do that.

And what’s interesting is that it’s all nascent ego… nascent ego… nascent ego… driving this change, “I’ve got to provide for my family, I failed to provide for my family, now I’m going to die, I’ve to make a new choice.”

Nascent ego, he keeps on making more and more horrific choices trying to do the right thing. Ends up manipulating his own worst student, Jesse, towards his addiction. It’s incredible, right?

And, this is all in the pilot!

And then when we get to the end of the pilot, we actually get back to this place of holdfast. Now it becomes about, “I’ve got to keep the crime empire going.”

And each season, Breaking Bad is actually built around the model of entrepreneurship.

Steve: Very American story. It’s a startup.

Jake: Yeah, it’s a startup, exactly.

And by season five they’re a multinational.

And the enemy is going to come from that Engine. In the startup years it’s going to be the local drug dealer and by the end it isn’t even the franchise, it’s the conglomerate that owns the franchise.

It’s such a fascinatingly built show.

For about three episodes is the engine is “He’s never going to tell his wife.”

And then just like in real life, we hold on as long as we can, and eventually, it becomes boring watching him not tell his wife.

So eventually, “Okay he’s going to tell his wife.” Because we can’t keep beating this dead horse anymore.

So, nascent-change.

And then it becomes about “how does she break bad?”

Because if she breaks good, now we’ve messed up the Engine. It has to keep on putting pressure on their relationship. If they become Bonnie and Clyde, the show is over.

Steve: It’s a little bit like Tony Soprano and his wife.


Jake: It really is, right?

Jake: So thinking about what your pilot does, what your pilot needs to do, to actually be successful is so much harder!  You have to provide a blueprint where people watch the pilot, and they’re able to pitch themselves five episodes just from your pilot.

I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you do that?

Steve: There’s kind of a different DNA to every show. That example of Breaking Bad is a great one because you basically have somebody who is leading a double life, and they’re going to try to maintain the status quo–they’re going to try to keep the nascent ego and the holdfast ego as far apart as they possibly can.

Just as Don Draper tries to keep it a secret, and you know he can’t. He isn’t Don, he’s actually somebody else.

And yet when it gets boring, four/five/six/eight episodes into season 1, finally everybody kind of finds out. And that’s anti-climactic because as it happens the whole driving wheel of the show is turning things into something they aren’t, making like these cheap chintzy crazy little products into something desirable.

The fascinating DNA of a pilot for me is that, because it’s all about characters in the world, you want to be able to touch as quickly as possible on that dynamic between the holdfast and the nascent ego in the principal characters of the show.

That, of course, gets into “the how”.

You know, “the how.” We talk about it a lot around here.

But there is also “the how” in terms of how people suppress the nascent ego.

And that’s something you really need to evince in the pilot. It’s there that we find the replicable units we talk about.

That battle between the nascent and the holdfast ego is constantly in play, and you want to develop as many of those key internal conflicts in your structure– the internal antagonist has become so very important in television, precisely because of the holdfast-nascent dynamic.

You need to be able to make that world as vivid as you can, and to show what’s uniquely interesting about the moral arena that results from that show, and who the people are that are trying to negotiate that moral labyrinth within the show.

We want to get a glimpse of the thing that either they don’t know about themselves or they do know, and they’re holding onto.

It’s critical to always be thinking at the beginning of any story, “What’s broken in the character? Why now, why are we starting now, and what’s broken within them?”

Because it’s that fissure that runs through the character that is the chasm between their best self and their changing self, their steady self, and their changing self.

Jake: In my Write Your Screenplay class we always talk about the phases of writing: “The ME Draft,” “The Audience Draft,” “The Producer Draft” and “The Reader Draft.”

These are the different ways that we focus our energy as we write.


And what I love that you’re saying is– I started with kind of a producer draft idea– the idea that your pilot needs to be a blueprint for the series. A person should be able to read your pilot and go, “I get it, I can imagine what’s going to happen in Episode 25, I can imagine what’s going to happen in Season 6. I don’t have to be brilliant. I can just read this pilot, and I can pitch it to myself.”

And what I love is you took it back to “The ME Draft.”

You took it back to, “Where does this really come from?”

This comes from something broken in the character. There’s something that needs to heal, that the character can’t heal. And all this structure, all this plot, and all this commercial stuff really just grow out of that wound.

Steve: Exactly, the fracture. The lack of self-knowledge or secrecy.

Every single character has a different relationship to their shadows.

It’s funny because we’re both kids of psychotherapists, so you go back there and you say, “Yeah those were good kind of conceptual things about narrative…”

Jake: It’s the same job. [laughs]

Steve: Right, it’s the same gig, [laughter]. You aren’t sitting across from your patient. You’re just broadcasting to them out there in the universe.

Jake: Yeah and you don’t have to heal them.

Steve: Right, [laughs]

Jake: The psychotherapist’s job is to bring the client to a place of peace.

This is the difference between what I do and my mom does. She has to bring the character to a place of peace. I need to mess up the character and force them to make worse and worse choices.

And then, if I’m writing a comedy eventually they’ll find a place of peace through that.

And if it’s a tragedy they won’t.

And if it’s an Indie film they’ll find both, or something more complicated. [Laughter]

Steve: And when writing a series, we won’t really know how all that’s going to play out until they tell us the show is canceled![Laughs]

You have to come up with a resolution, which is part of what’s interesting about the limited series notion because it’s a hybrid of the two.

I’m actually now rolling out a pilot and a bible for a series that is set in New York in the 1920s. It’s so critical for me to understand– what I think of in terms of the four dimensions of conflict.

And this isn’t really relevant to the seven kinds of conflict that we talk about in terms of genre or man versus self, man versus technology, etc. But there are a couple of ways in which they overlap.

It’s really important in the pilot, and in the series in an ongoing way, to be thinking first about the internal antagonist. And that’s what we’ve been talking about primarily now.

There’s an internal protagonist. There’s the best of the self: “I’m about esteem,” or, “I’m about love,” or, “I’m about comfort,” or, “I’m about self-fulfillment.”

But there’s also the obstacles within each of those aspects of the character, the ways in which that character will inevitably mess up.

What’s broken? What’s the thing that always screws them up, just when they think they’re going to finally kind of evolve to the next step in their lives?

So that internal antagonist is particularly important in television.

They say that intimacy is privacy shared. TV is really driven a lot by dialogue and its forerunners and not so much film as they’re the novel and radio.

You almost listen to a television show as much as you watch it. And it takes place in private. You participate in it primarily in your home. There’s an inherent intimacy to it.

So, understanding and feeling and sensing the internal antagonist are easier to achieve in television, because it takes place almost entirely in close-up. You aren’t shooting giant wide shots on television very much. It’s right in your face, literally.

So, I really need to get in touch with what’s broken. What are the multiple internal antagonists in a person? And then, obviously, you want to establish in the pilot what’s that next dimension? Because the internal gives the thing it’s depth, it gives it a psychological resiliency that can go on and on, and it really defines “the how” of the character.

The interpersonal conflict gives it its momentum.

You want to establish pretty clearly in the pilot, who are the people out there in this world that are always going to mess with the protagonist. Who are they and why? Get a glimpse of why they are the antagonist.

But then there’s also the societal antagonist.  And that larger dimension really needs to be paid a special kind of attention to as well. And maybe because television isn’t as plot driven as films are, the primary forms of antagonism for me are the internal and the societal, and maybe there’s also a kind of the spiritual or a philosophical dimension to it.

I was watching Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life the other day, and you know all four of those are at work in that film. And the spiritual antagonist is suddenly there in a way that you don’t see in very many films.

And that was a film that was born out of the suicide of his own brother. So it was born out of a broken place in himself.

Those are really important things, societal antagonist is what creates the world. It’s the membrane around the show, “What part of society am I in?” That’s the surrounding membrane of it for me.

So all three of those primary dimensions of antagonism need to be happening in the pilot.

Jake: I always think of them as beautiful and broken places. We can write from our wounds, and we can also write from whatever is most beautiful in us.

And the trick is that we’ve to be willing to torture either side of us, right?

Steve: Yes, that’s so true. Because the worst part of you is tortured by the best part of you, isn’t it? It isn’t only the inverse.

Jake: Whether you’re writing feature or series or a pilot or a miniseries or a play or a poem, it doesn’t matter. All this stuff starts with internal work.

And that’s why your audience actually gets to have a catharsis. They get that catharsis because you did.

And it’s also why writing doesn’t have to trap you.

A lot of artists have this false idea, “Well if I ever got better personally, I wouldn’t have anything to write from.”

But, it’s actually exactly the opposite. When you make peace with that broken part, you also meet a new beautiful part that you can take on a journey.

And then you’ll meet a new broken part that you didn’t realize was there.

This work is a constant act of self-exploration.

Steve: Yeah.

Jake: What’s nice about TV is you get multiple episodes, multiple seasons to just keep on peeling the layers of that onion, to keep on looking deeper and deeper at these characters.

Steve: Yeah, because what you’re really talking about is the writer who gets over that sort of “wound-ology” superstition about being a writer, and does get better in their own lives.

That writer has finally overhead themselves and changed.

Jake: Exactly and that’s what we’re building in a series. And as in a series, in life, you get to keep going. That’s a nice thing.

When Walter White finally admits he likes it, the series ends.

In life, you like it and you get to keep going,

Steve: It’s a spinoff. [Laughter]

Jake: You’re about to teach a TV Drama Weekend for us.

TV Drama

This is something that I’ve been begging Steve Molton to do for the last two years, and I’m so grateful for you giving us the time to do that.

The challenging thing about hiring great writers is they’ve greatly busy schedules. But I’m so happy that you’re teaching that class, and I’d love for you just to talk a little bit about how that weekend is going to work, how it’s going to be put together, and what students are going to learn.

Steve: I’d be happy to. It’s like putting lightning in a bottle. Some of it will involve the sort of rudiments we’ve been talking about today.  I want people to come to the class with a couple of new stories that fascinate them, that seem like they might make good series.

And I want them to come with at least one kind of throwaway idea that they aren’t that committed to, or not that protective of, that we can also workshop.

The beauty of dialogic teaching, on the first day we’re really going to mix it up. We’re going to work with some of these raw materials from out in the world.

We’re going to think about a protagonist that compels us. We’re going to sit down together and do a brain meld to create a couple of protagonists together.

And it is sort of like a Frankenstein experiment. We’re going to take all the best and worst of it, we’re going to talk about the hierarchy of needs, and we’re going to begin to zero in on a protagonist or two. Then we’re going to assemble one psychologically.

And then we’re going project this person into a field of reference that begins to set out the core sorts of obstacles that would most mess with that character and the ongoing complications.

How does the Engine fold out of that first portrait of the protagonist?  As Aristotle and so many have said, plot comes out of character. The world we are creating is going to be manifested by these characters.

So that first day will primarily be based within those kinds of dialogic experiments. You know, “what goes to Vegas stays in Vegas.” And in a sense, what goes that first day, whatever kind of personal stuff you bring to the table, stays at the table.

Because I want people in the class who are struggling with themes. I want to throw some of those themes out on the table and help them to get comfortable with the fact that this is about inner turbulence. It isn’t about inner certainty.

So that’s really how day one is going to roll.steve molton teaching

Day Two we’re going to begin to refine. We’re going to work a little less dialogically, and more collaboratively. We’re going to start to test out an idea that you have, that you think would make a good series.

On the basis of what we’ve learned the day before, we’re going to do a little bit of a stand and deliver, tell us who this person is, tell us what the routine obstacles are that they face, are they primarily internal, are they interpersonal?

So, we’re going to take an idea of our own and begin to road test it. And in the course of road testing it, and in the course using our core artists around us to give us feedback and help us refine that idea and carry it forward, we’ll also inherently be laying out what a Series Bible is.

This isn’t a course about how to write a TV Bible. It’s really a course about how you prepare yourself imaginatively to create a world and populate it, to create a television habitat and populate it, and to understand that the relationship between those two things determines what the Engine will be, determines its potential longevity.

And what we may find by the end of the workshop is, “Man I came in here with an idea that was better than I thought it was.”

Jake: If someone has a web series, is that something they could develop in that class as well?

Steve: They could certainly… because that’s basically a kind of a mini version of what we’ll be dealing with when we talk about series. So, I’d encourage people, if they have a web series idea, to bring it in.

The wonderful thing about web series– first of all it’s a wonderful way kind of commercially to put yourself on a map because we have these amazing tools.

New writers for film or television now have an array of possibilities that are ripe, that bypass all of the barriers to entry.

With web series, it’s like what young bands in the 60s found by discovering the FM radio frequency. Nobody wanted to put them on the AM, the technology had kind of atomized enough that a thousand different bands could thrive on FM.

Web series are the equivalent, the analog for that to me, a thousand different small stories that can thrive. You can write to them, you can act them, you can direct them, you can edit them, and you can put them into international distribution by yourself– so much so that the Writers Guild now if you get a certain number of hits for your web series on a regular basis, they’re going to let you into the Guild, because they know that’s the future.

Jake: It’s such an exciting time to be a writer.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely.

Jake: So, let me give the dates on that class, that TV Drama Weekend Intensive is Saturday and Sunday, March 30th and 31st from 11 AM to 5 PM Eastern both days.

You can come here to the city if you want. You can also attend online. Like all of our classes, we’ve got a whole array of mics in the ceiling. You can see, and hear and participate, and we can see and hear you. It’s a pretty amazing setup. It’s just like being in the room.

So come check out that class, you can learn more about it at And thank you so much, Steve, for being here and sharing your time with us.

Steve: Thank you, Jacob, it’s always fun to talk, let’s just keep gabbing, don’t turn off the mic.

Jake: Let’s keep doing it, yeah come back, [laughs].

Steve: Come now and see us ladies and gents you won’t be bored.



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