MINDHUNTER: Writing For David Fincher
Interview With Staff Writer & JK Studio Student Pamela Cederquist
Live from ITVFEST
Jake: Hello everybody thanks for joining us. This is an exciting event for me for a couple of different reasons. As a lot of you know, we are up here at ITVfest in Vermont, hosting a retreat for our students, so we are doing a live version of my podcast.
This is a special episode, because I am so incredibly proud of the woman sitting to my left. Pamela Cederquist is a student of mine, she is taking pretty much every class at the studio, she is part of our ProTrack Mentorship Program. And, she just finished her first stint in a real writer’s room on one of the most exciting shows of the year, Mindhunter, the new David Fincher series for Netflix.
So first, I just think she deserves a round of applause.
These are the kind of success stories that you want to see and that you want to remember. Because, so many people wonder, “Is this really possible?”
Pamela doesn’t live in Los Angeles; she lives in Upstate New York. Pamela isn’t 22 years old. Pamela is a writer who worked her ass off and made it.
And, so, I want to talk to you about what the process was for you. How did you become a part of Mindhunter?
Pamela: Hi everybody. First of all, it is a pleasure to be here thank you for listening. I got the job by word of mouth, by knowing somebody and having worked with that person, and also having had a feature script that I had developed and that took 400 years to finish. I was able to show that script to one of David’s producers, and they read it, and I got notes back from that producer.
They liked that writing well enough that, when David was looking for another writer, they were able to say to David, “Hey check this out.”
I got a phone call and they said, “Hi, say yes to this phone call and would like you in Pittsburgh on Friday.” And I was like, “Okay, I don’t know what I am saying yes to, but I can be in Pittsburgh on Friday.”
Then they said, “Good, you are writing for David Fincher,” and I went, “Okay, yes.”
Jake: I think one of the things that is exciting about this is that often writers get hung up on the question of selling it– Is it this script? Do I have the right idea? Is the idea marketable?
The title of Pamela’s spec script is Pyro, and I think Pyro is a good movie for David Fincher and it is a really extraordinary script. When you sent that script out, the real hope of course was that they were going to buy it, they were going to option it, you were going to make a lot of money, it was going to get made.
And this is an example of a script that didn’t get bought, where you get a bunch of notes back, “Do this, change that,” and you don’t even know that months later you are going to get a phone call.
Can you talk to me a little bit about the process of developing that script?
Pamela: It started with an idea about an artist whose medium is fire. I actually saw a video on YouTube that was a light piece, where somebody had a dragon that was flowing across a wall, a building. And, I went from there to fire, which I think is an amazing thing, and started writing this script.
And I had kindof come up with characters and kindof come up with the story, and I knew what the beginning was, and, I sort of knew what the end was. And I got completely lost in the middle of it, which is you know, where writers end up in hell.
And, at that point, I went to a writers’ conference in LA, my first one, and I was thinking “Okay I will go to a writers’ conference because I have never been, so I will go to writers’ conference and see what it is.” And walked into a room, and Jake was doing a pitching session, and it was one of those moments where when you meet somebody and you are like, “Oh, right person for me.”
And, that just, that happens to all of us, and sometimes it happens often, sometimes it happens rarely, but in my world, what I have learned is when that happens, you grab hold and you stay there.
It took me two years to finally be able to get in a position in my life where I could play with Jake. And, in working with you on Pyro, what we found, and what I have learned from you that was invaluable in working with Fincher, and what I learned on Pyro was theme; was taking theme and using it as your guide, like that was my roadmap.
I knew what I was writing suddenly, and we threw out characters, we created new characters, we threw out entire sequences, we added more sequences, and now all of a sudden I have car chases and foot chases and roof running and blowing shit up, all that other stuff.
And it works, it isn’t gratuitous, it works and it is the right thing.
Jake: So, talk to me a little bit about your process as a writer, because you have a very intuitive process. And you know, I think a lot of writers get hung up on the idea of where they are going.
And, one of the cool things that I saw as your writing developed was that we had all these chunks, and all these different chunks, and you would sort of discover them like, “I don’t actually know where all these chunks go,” or, “I am not exactly sure who this character is.” We had characters who switched gender, right?
Talk a little bit about that process and how you discovered that stuff.
Pamela: Okay, so one of the things I have found is that the way I work is I have to think a lot. And, Jake at one point finally said to me, “Look, don’t go so deep, please, don’t go so deep, just write on the surface,” because otherwise I am like, “Wow maybe this person is like going to turn their hair orange, it is going to be great.”
So, it needs to be integral to me. And the biggest discipline I think I had to learn was getting out of my own way, was, stop trying to write, that for me was the most important thing.
I have done some acting, and it is the same thing in my experience as acting where if I walk onto a stage or in front of a camera and I try to act, it is going to suck.
And, if I just arrive on stage and let it flow, and trust whatever it is that is talking through me, it works and it works well. And, I have had that same experience with writing, and that is what I brought to the table with Fincher as well.
Jake: So, I think this story is awesome. Sometimes we manifest things that we don’t even realize we are manifesting.
So, we got to the end of this two year process, to tell you that Pamela rewrote that script like 400 times, probably doesn’t even describe what that was. And then, she got all these notes from the producer and she rewrote the script again, which has been another good six months.
It is an incredibly long process and it is one of the things that a lot of writers don’t understand. They are wondering, “Do I have what it takes to make it? Or, is this idea good enough? Or, is this script good enough?”
And I think one of the reasons that Pamela succeeded is because of her tremendous work ethic.
And, I can tell you in my experience working with writers that I will take a writer who has got the work ethic over the writer who it flows easily for any day.
I will take the writer who maybe struggles a little bit more.
Some people just start typing words and it flows out like magic and gold. But sometimes, those people don’t actually have the experience with struggle to say, “Okay I want to do this again. It didn’t work; I am going to do it again.”
And so Pamela– I was almost done the first draft with Pamela– and Pamela says, “You know Jake, I have decided as my next project, I want to learn to write something on a deadline because this thing took me two years, and I grew so much as a writer, and I feel like I got enough and I need to learn to write fast.”
And, the next thing I knew, she was writing on insane deadlines on Mindhunter. She just manifested it and got out.
What was it for you, what was the difference when you are writing alone, or writing a feature versus coming into an existing show and having to write those characters?
Pamela: Listening. I mean, I got lucky. I got to work with David Fincher, and my experience in working with David Fincher is that he is willing to give anything to the creative process.
He was available 24/7, his schedule was insane and I never took him up on it, but in my conversations with him, he was like, “Call any time, if you have any question, call.”
And he was willing to play with, “what if?” “Yes, here is my outline, yes here is what I have been told, but I would like to play with this a little bit, I am not sure with the character, I think we could do more with the character, I think the character—what do you think?”
“Yeah, yeah go ahead, write it, write it long, if you give me 200 pages for 60 pages, I am fine with that, let me see it, and let me participate in playing with it.” So, I got the best– I mean you can’t get better.
I got lucky, I got to work with somebody who was interested in participating– or maybe I didn’t get lucky, maybe that is true about a lot of people, we just don’t get a chance to help them get there.
But, it was about being of service to somebody else’s story. That is what I was there for. I was there to support him in telling the story he wanted. Which meant not only doing what he asked for, but listening and trying to find those pieces that he was maybe implying or wasn’t quite 100% clear about yet. And giving him the stuff to look at so that he could go, “Yes, no, no this doesn’t work, yes this works.”
And that– accepting that the no’s were going to be part of the process of finding what was yes, and not taking it personally. Because it is his project.
Jake: How do you step into a character that you didn’t create?
Pamela: Oh yeah, yeah. Finding what is true for me. So, Mindhunter, came out today, so I can talk about it–and there are some things I won’t be able to talk about or answer because I signed a confidentiality agreement with them.
Mindhunter is the story of two guys. This takes place in the 1970’s; late 1970’s/early 1980’s, two guys who are FBI agents, and who develop the PSU/BAU, so they are at the very beginning of using psychology as a way of figuring out how the criminal mind works.
So this is really not number one area of expertise. I just never woke up in early morning and went, “I want to write about serial killers.” I am not interested in knowing how somebody cuts up somebody and puts them in a garbage can.
And also—the idea of writing police people when I have never been a police person, was a thing. So, it was about finding what would make me be the best writer I could be so that I was the best tool for David. For me to be something that he can use to unlock doors.
It was, “Okay I have got Holden and he is like ‘all about Holden.’ And I have got Tench and he is an older guy who is married. So what do I relate to?”
I can relate to Holden because he is just curious. Holden is curious, he will do anything to fill “what if?” And, Tench is all about, “Look, let’s do it this way.” And I know that for me== I know both of those things. I know all about, “Oh G-d, how exciting ‘what if?’” and I know all about, “No let’s do that,” so I found those pieces with them.
And then with the serial killers that I wrote, it was about finding the humanity in them. Not going into all the–“Oh when they were a child they were beaten up, and therefore they cut their mother’s head off.”
But, the thing of being neglected, or being lonely, or having a way of seeing the world that nobody else sees, “I see a mosaic when I look at the table, I like to kill animals,” it is the same thing, I mean kind of sort of.
And then also finding those things of; where does somebody want to control? For me, it was about finding that common ground.
Jake: Yeah, you know I am reminded of the line from Tropic Thunder, “Never go full retard,” and in a way you never want to go full psycho either, right? It is always about finding the piece of character in you.
And I think this relates to an idea that is misused a lot in screenwriting, which is this idea of archetypes– the idea of archetypes being labels.
If you read any of the Hero’s Journey stuff or any of the disciples of the Hero’s Journey stuff, you know everyone has got a different name for the “Threshold Guardian,” and everybody has a different name for the “Terrible Father” or the “Emotional Mother,” everyone has got a different name for that.
But the idea of archetypes actually come from Jung, and it comes from the idea that we can all tap into the collective unconscious. That we, as Walt Whitman says, “contain multitudes.”
And the idea is that you can actually step into a serial killer, not by asking “what part of me is a serial killer?” but “What part of me is the pain in them? Or what part of me is the beauty in them?” And you don’t need a name for that. You just have to ask yourself “How do I pull this little piece out of me and find a way to that character?
I wanted to talk to you about the way you write action as well. You guys don’t know this yet, but Pamela is one of the best writers of action that I have ever gotten to read. And, in her script Pyro, there are these pyromaniac parties– there is a party pyro loose in Detroit who is burning down buildings with the most incredible spectacle. And, she is writing these incredibly complicated action sequences.
And I wanted to talk to you a little bit about like what is the process of how you approach that?
Pamela: Verbs—my entire life comes down to verbs.
I start with the feeling of it. For Pyro, I had to listen to a lot of techno, and a lot of Snow Patrol helped a lot and some Nine Inch Nails and that kind of stuff.
Jake and Jess and everybody at the studio talks about the fact that there are three ways that we take in information—auditory, visual and kinesthetic.
And I am primarily kinesthetic, so to write action for me I have to start with, how does it feel? And then, I have to go to, how does it look?
So the roof running sequences– for the roof running sequences I had to talk to some roof runners who are friends. Then I had to watch some roof running, some of the great roof running video stuff on YouTube. And then I had to look at pictures of roofs, because I needed a sequence of roofs, each of which would look like a different roof, so I could write the slug line and then the sequence so that the director, the person reading would be able to see it.
So, just like–
EXT. COLLAPSED WAREHOUSE
The warehouse roof has collapsed into a V.
I can’t even quote it because I wrote it–now I don’t remember the verb. But they run and then they jump and they leap and stuff.
I needed the feeling of Dani and Hailey who are two teenage roof runners pushing, because that is what I knew. I needed forward momentum and I needed the sense of flying free and of taking a chance, daring, because they are teenagers and that is what you do when you are a teenager, you push the boundaries of stuff.
And once I got that feeling, then I knew that it was flying, and then I knew it was roof running. And, once that happened, then I knew what the verb was, and once I had the verb, I was able to write it.
Jake: I think it is a great place to begin a discussion about one of things you were telling us about Fincher, “Send me 120 pages, I don’t care for a 40 minute episode, or an hour long episode.”
You know, oftentimes as writers we don’t give ourselves that freedom. A lot of screenwriting classes aren’t taught by screenwriters, and so you get taught about the final product, but not the path to get there.
My writers will come to my beginning class and be like, “Well you know, I have to hit my Inciting Incident by page 10.” But, when you work with the real masters, people like Fincher; they know that this is a process that needs to breathe.
In a way, your early draft is like a form of research. And I think that is kind of what you were talking about– is that you do the research where you go to the roofs or look at pictures of the roofs or talk to the roof runners.
You do the research where you are imagining it in your mind and imagining how it needs to feel– before you have actually articulated each moment. You do the research of writing the bad draft of the scene or the long draft of the scene and just kind of sitting in the scene to find that one line that you need before you start typing it up perfectly.
And then, there is another side of it, which is the imaginative research, right? And you came out of that onto the Mindhunter project and started writing real fast.
So, what was it like having to write these serial killers without getting that full research period that most of people get? Because, a lot of these are based on real people, right?
Pamela: They are all based on real people. So, the outline I was given, and the assignment I was given, had scenes that were interviews with serial killers—so it has these elements; it has elements of personal story about each of the characters, it has elements of them prepping for interviews, them doing the interviews, and post interviews.
And, when I landed on the ground, I knew that I was going to have to do research on the serial killers that I had been assigned. Because, what David had said was, “We need based in reality, I don’t want any pretend, so you better know your stuff, and you had better write from truth about their true lives. And, I want to discover something that I didn’t know about these serial killers.”
Now, he has done a lot of research because it is his show about serial killers, and he is the one who has chosen the serial killers. So, it is like, “Wow how do I find something that David Fincher doesn’t know?”
So, based on that, I knew I was going to need time to do research. And, we had to–within three weeks–turn in draft of this episode.
So, what I said to him was, “Look, I am going to do the personal stories first, because that way I can find out about the characters, I will know about the characters and who they are by the time I get to the interview. And that means that I can do the research while doing the characters. And because we have such a short turn around, as opposed to waiting till I have a full script, I am going to give you the scenes, the personal scenes, ahead so that you can read them, and you can give me notes on them, so that I can fix your notes while I am doing the interviews.”
And then, I did the research. The thing that was tricky for me in doing the interviews was that– because this is a period piece, and my serial killer was an extremely well known serial killer, I had to, in my head, learn everything there was to know about that serial killer up to 1981.
And I needed to make sure that in my head, I didn’t know anything that happened after 1981.
And, because it is about the psychology of why these people do what they do, I needed to also know everything that they knew about psychology up to 1981, but nothing about psychology or the science of the mind after 1981. So that was part of the first step.
And then, the second step was watching video– any video that existed of that serial killer– because of the mannerisms and the delivery. Because for me, the music of how the voice sounds, and how they deliver a language, and how they physically act, is one of the ways that I can get inside a character.
And then, reading transcripts of trials, looking at interviews, reading any other press. And then looking for the weird piece of information that would be the one weird piece of information that David Fincher didn’t find, and I was praying that I find it, I was like “Oh my G-d, give me something, anything.”
And luckily enough, I found it. And when I found it and I told him about it he was like, “Oh my G-d that is great, send me the article, let’s include it.”
So, I finished the first pass on the interview. I wrote the interview first, and then I went back and wrote the pre-interview because now I knew what they were going to talk about. So, I knew what they wanted to know from the interview, knew what the question they would ask, and then in the post I knew what kind of answer they would give.
And, one of the other things that David said about what he wanted was, “I don’t want these people to come to a resolution too early on in the process… this isn’t standard TV, I don’t want TV writing, I want them to come away with, ‘okay, we’ve learned this next thing and I think this is true, and maybe it is true, so let’s add it to the book because we think it is true, let’s add it to our manual for how the FBI is going to track down serial killers.’”
And that to me was fascinating.
The thing that he said to me that was like my little click into David Fincher’s mind was, “I want to see all the things that they tell you not to write about.”
And that was like a whole, “Wow now I get to spend the time finding,” which we are never given, we are never given, not as directors, not as actors, not as writers. You know we are told, here is the information–
And it is like, mm, mm, no, not if you are working with David Fincher.
Jake: There is so much bad information out there about what you are supposed to do. My students ask me all the time, “Does it always have to follow the rules?”
Any time somebody says “always” to you, you know they are lying to you.
Because at the end of the day, this is art.
And at the end of the day the thing that is going to distinguish you is the same thing that distinguishes Fincher, the same thing that distinguishes Pamela, which is that they aren’t playing by the same rules that everybody else is using. If you do that, then you are going to end up writing the same crap everybody else is writing. It is about breaking those rules.
And even the concept of Mindhunter breaks those rules– writing interview scenes, that is the “no, no” of all “no, no’s,” right? Like there is nothing harder to do than write an interview scene.
Can you talk a little bit about how do you find structure underneath an interview? How did you make those interviews move, as opposed to just being informational?
Pamela: I treated them as their own little movies. So there were acts, and then—I don’t want to say too much about this one because it is specific—but, it depended. To me it is like building a car, I guess– and I have never built a car. But, I have fantasized about somebody else building a car.
And you are building a car and you are using a wrench and something comes up along theway and you put the wrench down and you pick up the screwdriver and then put the screwdriver down and you pick the wrench up again.
And it is kindof to me the same thing in terms of the tools of writing.
So, I started by knowing that here is the central question I am going to use– they are going to learn about who is responsible, how much responsibility somebody is going to take about something. And that is what they are going to take away.
I don’t know what they are going to take away about responsibility yet. But that gave me a field of play, and then I went back and I looked at all the research on the serial killer and I was like, “Okay, write the scene from the point of view of the serial killer.” So, I wrote it from– he walks in, he tries to take control of the room, this is the stuff he wants to say, this is the way he wants to act– and I finished the scene from his point of view.
And then I went back and I rewrote it from each of the other characters: Holden’s character and then from Tench’s character.
And to me, by writing it those three ways– that is how I found the want of it.
Because, I think if I had tried to do it just cohesively as a whole thing– serial killers play a freaking game. Like I am so sad that I am kind of an expert on serial killers at this point, it is really not anything I thought I would ever be a semi-pretender expert on.
So they are playing their own game, and their game isn’t necessarily a chess game, and the guys who are with the FBI maybe are playing a chess game. So you’ve got people playing different games in the room.
Jake: Yeah, I love that answer, because it connects it back to that idea of want, right? And back to that idea of structure.
That it isn’t about the information that comes out, it is about the games that the characters are playing with each other. It isn’t about the informational transaction in the interview; it is about the emotional transaction between the characters.
And the idea that every character actually thinks that they are your main character, which is why you have to really be able to step into each of those points of view.
Girl #3 thinks this is Girl #3’s movie. And, you have to be able to step into Girl #3’s point of view and see the scene from her perspective in order to do it in a believable way.
And I think that is one of the things that gives your work sort of feeling of richness, is just that incredible amount of empathy.
So, I think this might be a great time to open it to some questions. Who has a question?
Q: I have like a hundred questions, but I am curious about your process and how much of your process you brought into it and how much of Fincher said “this is how it is going to work.”
Pamela: It was all my process, and it was my process in service to David.
Because, in my experience of working in performing arts and in collaborative art form, I figure that I am here in order to bring you what I can bring you.
And, if you don’t like what I bring you, then you will find somebody else. And that is okay because it is yours, it isn’t mine.
And, if I pretend to be somebody I am not, then I am not giving them truth. And as a writer if I don’t give you truth, then my stuff is crap. That is, at least for me. I can’t write bullshit, it ends up being crap.
So, it was all me in service to David. And luckily enough, like I said, David is a magnanimous creator, and was willing to spend four hours on the phone with me talking through stuff, and was available whenever. And his notes were clear and concise, and he got on the phone with me after I got his notes.
Q: What advice would you give to people who are about to sit down and write collaboratively with one or more other people, because I know that can be challenging if you’ve never done it before, what challenges did you find and what advice would you give?
Pamela: I will give you the good example and the bad example because that is so much more fun. Five… ten years ago, I worked on a project with somebody who was a friend to start with to write a show. And she is smart, she is really smart, and I am pretty smart.
And, the very first thing we did when we sat down is we said, “We need some ground rules for how to do this so we don’t destroy the personal relationship.” And the first rule we put on the table was, “We will be kind to each other, period. It doesn’t matter what the hell is going on, we will be kind.”
And, I am advising one of Jake’s other students on a project that is he working through right now. And he is lucky enough to have a friend who has a story, who has money, and so he is writing a script.
And so he called me he was like, “Oh my G-d…” and I said, “Look, first of all decide what is most important, is the project more important or are the relationships more important, because, you need to be clear about what you are fighting for.”
And for this other writer, as soon as I said that he was like, “Oh the friendship. I don’t want to screw up the friendship.” I was like, “Okay so now you know, if it comes to a breaking point, you know what you are going to choose.”
And this is something actors know a lot about I think. When you are acting, and directors know, I mean we all know it in this room:
If you are going to create a work of art, you need to be vulnerable, which is very scary for the majority of us, because, it isn’t the norm in our society today.
The norm in our society is to put up a wall, put on a mask, be the strongest, be the one who knows. You never say “I don’t know,” you always have an answer and all of that other crap. And that won’t work, in my experience, if you are actually going to get to a room that works.
So, with my writing partner, this project we worked on, we ended up having to kill so many babies, it was just like so freaking sad. So, I had a character Will, and I loved Will, and at one point my writing partner was like, “Will has got to go, out of here.”
I had a total meltdown, I like stand on my feet, I had a two year old temper tantrum and I went and I couldn’t work for three days. And then a couple of weeks later it was me saying, “Christian has got to go,” and she had a temper tantrum, and she left and couldn’t work for three days.
We had to grieve the character or grieve the scene. We had to kill off a whole battle sequences… so sad man, you know after all the research we did on the knives and how you use them.
But, in having those temper tantrums, because we had the rule on the table of being kind, the heated arguments we had about what was going to happen in the script and how we were going to do it, and what we were going to throw out and what we were going to add, and when we brought in a third party, where somebody else read it and came in and said blah, blah, blah, so we would now argue about the notes we were given.
It was never an attack, it was never an argument, it was a heated discussion. So that is what I would say, is the first thing is sitting down and deciding; what is most important, the relationship or the project?
And then, be kind, be kind, be courteous, and be aware that you are working with people who have to be vulnerable the way you have to be vulnerable. And if they can’t and you can’t, just shake hands and agree not to work together. So, that would be the works really well together.
An example of not working well together for me is this– so again in my experience with stuff, with working any project; you have to period that is the “what if?” period. Where you toss at a whole pile of ideas, and what if we did this and maybe he goes to grocery store or he gets a can of soda and throws it at his mother, or, you know, whatever it is…
And then, there comes a moment in time where you have to stop the “what if’s?” You have to stop them and move on to the, “Okay here is the plan.” And the plan may change, you may get part way through the plan and go, “Dude we should go back to this what if and bring it in, and look at it again.”
One of the projects that I worked on in the past that didn’t work was a project where they stayed with “what if?” and they walked out of the writer’s room with a whole pile of “what if?” and a whole pile of pretender outlines.
But they were pretender outlines because nobody had actually sat down and made a decision. So, that isn’t a good choice either, there has to be in my experience a consensus and/or somebody who is in charge, a real show runner, a real actual honest showrunner which is like such an exciting human if they are kind.
Q: I just started working as a writer’s assistant in the last two years and one of the things that I never saw coming in the room is kind of what you just spoke to, which is the idea of the writers aren’t there necessarily to be right all the time and show off how smart they are, it is to figure out a way to please the showrunner and fix the problem that they have.
And I just wondered, if you could speak to what it is like trying to adapt to someone else’s creative tastes and how you do go about doing that.
Pamela: For me, I would say, be careful with the words you choose. To please somebody is a very specific verb. And to please somebody puts very specific parameters on who has power, who has status, and how you are going to respond to that power and status.
So just, in the same way that if you write a character, “Joe walks into the office and wants to please Harry…” Who is more powerful? We all know that it is Harry.
So, in my world, to serve is very different from to please. To be of service means that I am helping you as an equal, it is an equal partnership, regardless of whether you think your status is “more than” because you have a title. I mean I have had a crap load of titles at different points in time, and regardless of the title, it is still again about human beings.
So, if you have asked me to come and work with— not work for, nobody ever works for, people work with. You are being of service as a writer’s assistant because if they asked you to get lunch, what you’ve just done is given that person an additional 45 minutes in which to write something so that show is better. And that is what being of service is in my world.
So I was working on My Dog Skip, and the producers on it, who became an icon– it was their first movie. And we got into the production meeting, and we sat down, and most of the time when you sit down with first time producers, at a table or first time any things, they want to make sure that you know what their power is, what their status is, etcetera.
So, not Andrew. That was the reason everybody was like, “I will work with you again,” because Andrew sat down at the table, said hi and introduced himself, “Hi I am Andrew, I am your producer, I have never done this before, and I am really looking forward to learning from all of you and if there is anything you need, come and ask me.”
What isn’t to love? You now know that the person who has the power to hire and fire is willing to learn, and he isn’t going to stand there and go, “I am the producer, so fuck off.”
Jake: And I think that is important when you are coming up new as well, there are going to be people who don’t like you. And in fact, if your writing doesn’t piss somebody off, or your ideas don’t piss somebody off, you are probably not doing a very good job.
And, I think a lot of writers, especially in their first gig, they fall into that kind of pleasing mode, and we do, we kind of please people, we don’t even have a boss, right? And we are like, “But Snyder said do this, Syd Field said do that or my screenwriting teacher said do this.”
And Neil Gaiman has a quote that I love. He says, “If somebody tells you exactly what is wrong with your story and exactly how to fix it, they are always wrong. But if somebody tells you what their experience of your story is, they are always right.”
And I think that your job as a writer is always to serve the project, and if people don’t like you because of it, they will fire you and that will be good for you because you will get to work on a project with people who get you. And that doesn’t mean you should be a jerk. Your serving the project means you have to understand it, sometimes getting lunch is serving the project.
And if you fight every battle, that isn’t serving the project. If every meeting has to be an hour long because of you, that isn’t serving the project. Instead you should be thinking about “What are the real needs of the project? What are the things that I can set aside– that are just my own ego? And what are the things that if I can just help them understand this one concept, the whole project is going to be better?”
And I think that happens with your own writing as well.
What is the one thing, that if you can focus on that thing, it is going to make everything else better.
And, then throw away all the other opinions and all the other rules and all the other things, don’t please anybody, but look at what people need from you, and look at what the project needs.
Pamela: I have one other thing I would add to that. So, an experience that I had with a showrunner. This is like a 60 year old man, all I wanted to do was pat him and send him off to mom or something.
But I had a moment with him right at the very beginning, and I wasn’t thinking, I was like “Hi, hello it is nice to meet you.” And, we were having some difficulty with the project, and I don’t even remember what he said but I just said, “Yeah, you know my job is to make mistakes. It is what I am going to do. That is how you find stuff out of.”
If you aren’t making a mistake, you aren’t pushing the envelope. If you aren’t pushing the envelope, then why are you here? That is what a writer’s whole process is, that is what a rough draft is, etcetera.
And this guy, all he did was glance at me, but like I suddenly realized that I had just stripped him of all power. He had absolutely—there was no way he was going to be able to make me feel like crap.
So, don’t show off, you aren’t there to prove that you are the greatest person in the world, in my experience and in my opinion; you are there to be of service to the project and to those people.
So, I don’t need to prove to you how great I am, what I need to do is to support you by trying to give you as many ideas as I can, and to listen.
Jake: So, we are about to wrap up, if you aren’t currently a subscriber on the podcast, you can find it on ITunes, you can look for Write Your Screenplay, and if you had a good experience today and you want to help us out, please subscribe. Please write a review and help us get the word out. It is all completely free– we do with no advertising– it is just our way of giving back to the community.
But Pamela, you are sitting here with a quote, and so I thought maybe you could, since you came with it, maybe you could take us out with the quote that you brought.
Pamela: Okay, so I call Jake my Sensei. I think of writing like a martial art. You have to get up every morning, you have to practice. You aren’t going to be able to hit the ball out of the park unless you practice.
So, one of the things that Jake said to me, well not said to me, said it in a class but I wrote it down and I kept it with me is, “Art demands that you concede nothing, reject nothing, just listen, try to understand instead of dominate, try to find common ground.”
Jake: Thank you so much.