This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 217: Breaking Into Television With Screenwriter Devon Shepard.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #215 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer Devon Shepard. He’s a comedian and television writer. He’s written on a number of popular TV shows over the years including Weeds, Mad TV, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and many, many more. We have a wide ranging talk. We spend quite a bit of the time digging into the early days of his career and really breaking down exactly how he was able to break in. Stay tuned for that interview.
If you find this episode viable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on the blog or in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode incase you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #217. If you want my free guide- How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional log line and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
Quick few words about what I’m working on. On the writing front the kids TV show that I’ve been talking about the last few months, I’ve been working on that. I just finished the first draft of episode number four. So I’ll be presenting those pages to my writer’s groups tomorrow and I’ll get some notes inevitably from the producers and then I’ll spend a little time polishing up that episode and probably go back and do some rewriting on the other episodes as well. But overall I’m in pretty good shape, so I’m starting to wind that down. It’s really now up to the producers to go out and get the financing all worked out and then figure out when and if they’re gonna shoot this thing, so I have my fingers crossed on that.
I’m starting to think about what I’m gonna do next. I haven’t quite figured that out though I did really enjoy the process with The Pinch, so considering maybe another film like that. But it is a ton of work so I’ve got to really make sure I have the time and energy to devote to it, but well see. The bottom line is I’m winding down on this TV show and starting to look around for something else. That’s what I’m working on. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing comedian and writer Devon Shepard. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Devon to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Devon: Thank you for having me man. This is dope.
Ashley: To start out maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Devon: You know, it was ironic because…I don’t wanna do the whole long story, but it’s kind of has become a little bit of one of those tales out of Hollywood, because I got discovered in a barber shop by Rob Edwards who at that time…you know Rob Edwards his last thing he wrote was Princes and the Frog for Disney which was nominated for an Oscar. Rob was doing a show called Out All Night. At that time I was a PA/struggling comedian. There was a comedy theater literally around the corner form the barber shop which was owned by my best friend. So I’d get off work, I’d go there, you sit in a chair, I give you some shit, I fuck with you, take whatever I’ve got, go around and do my [inaudible] two minutes, three minutes at the comedy theater which was hosted by Robin Edwards.
Anybody that thought they were funny and black had to go through there. It was like a Rocker’s of comedy at the time. So I was just happening in my two minutes and Rob Edwards came in, Rob Edwards at the time…this is like almost ’91. I had just graduated college. He would wear…this is back when riders wore Oxford pants and [inaudible] and shit and buttoned up. They looked like Carl of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I was like because they always [inaudible] from some East Coast college and they were very persnickety and conservative, eye brown and here I am. So he brings his square ass [inaudible] barbershop and Will Smith [inaudible] I guess Rob wanted a hood experience and get a haircut at the hood is they I took him to the barbershop that I happened to be in.
So this squared ass sits in my chair and you know, I love Rob. Rob doesn’t get mad when I tell that story but the older I get the more I tell [inaudible]. He thought I was really funny and said, “You should come write for this new show that I have called Out All Night and it was starring Patti Labelle and Morris Chestnut and Duane Martin. Vivica Fox was also in it. I was like I don’t wanna write. I said I’m a stand up, if I don’t do standup [inaudible] so that’s really where my head was at, but also I fancy myself pretty funny and I was trying to beat Martin at that time, so I thought I was [inaudible]. I had my focus on either stand up or direct [inaudible]. And he says, “You’re really funny,” he said…at this time there wasn’t a lot of people of color or African-American writers or women writers really at that time, which is ironic because two of my heroes are female writers.
But he said, “You should come write.” So I did the math. There’s a million brothers telling jokes. There’s no brothers writing, so let me give this a shot. He told me to write a spec script and I had no idea what a spec script was. He told me it was just a sample of your writing. So I said, “Okay.” I wrote like two pages of random act scenes of the Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air that ain’t connected to nothing, just wrote it. But he said inside of those two or three [inaudible] this is not a spec script [laughs]. [inaudible]. And then he said but he saw that I understood humor, I knew how to write jokes and I don’t know, based on those three scenes his brother submitted me to be a writer’s trainee on the show. The other thing that helped me get it, I’m a name dropper a little bit.
So Morris Chestnut and I were roommates in college. When I heard he was doing it, I said, “That’s my guy.” So we were having trouble writing for him because he’s not funny. He’s not classically funny. Mo is funny, it’s just a different type of funny. I started telling him stories [inaudible] day to day stuff and he was like, “Okay, you definitely got the job.” And that’s how my career started.
Ashley: Okay, perfect.
Devon: I’m [inaudible].
Ashley: No, I think that’s a great story. Everybody has their own unique story and I think it’s fascinating just to hear yours. So it looks like just on IMDb, I’m looking at you IMDb page and it looks like you got on as a story editor on Fresh Prince. Maybe you can kind of take us from that first job, how it led up to you being a story editor on Fresh Prince. Did the first show get…did you just do a couple of pilots? I didn’t see that listed on your IMDb, is that?
Devon: You know, I don’t know why it’s not listed on there. We did a whole season. We did [inaudible]. That was the reason we didn’t come back. I don’t wanna get into that because it had nothing to do with the ratings. We were actually pulling in close to 14 [inaudible] if I remember, which would be a fucking gigantic hit today. We were doing it on a regular basis. We would still write though and [inaudible]. But that experience was really cool. What was great was I had Morris Chestnut. You don’t get those kind of support I don’t think right out the gate, but I had Morris Chestnut my boy and one of my best friends till this day on the show. I became really good friends with Duane Martin and Vivica Fox.
We would hang out and everything so there was that support there. And then there was Earle Hyman who I knew from… Earle Hyman is probably one of the biggest concert independent promoters out there. He’s [inaudible] Luther Vandross, any black artist that was really big, he had a hand in it. Elton, John, you know. So I made a really good connection with him and really established a great relationship with him [inaudible] could not have been better people. I talk with Sue to this day. That’s my second mum. I call her the hip hop mum [inaudible]. So my first experience was just a streaming support of experience. As a writer’s trainee I wrote two scripts which was unheard of. They gave me two scripts.
And then they bought me up to a staff writer right after Christmas. I was also doing a one off on the show. I was just like a kid in a candy store. It couldn’t have been a better experience on that first one. Show when the show was cancelled I didn’t really…you know, I’m still new to TV. I don’t really understand…like, okay, it’s cancelled, what does that mean, what happens to me, do I just go back to the barber shop. Is this it? And I didn’t even have an agent there. I had an appointment with [inaudible] and said, “Don’t get one.” He said because they’re gonna hire you over at Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. So I knew we were getting cancelled the day we got cancelled, the same day I got hired at Fresh Prince of Bel Air because Andy and Sue [inaudible] who was executive in charge over the show, they all saw how I worked and they liked my work ethic.
I had a good reputation coming off that show so…and they needed…Benny [inaudible] ended up being another one of my best friends. He’s actually doing a Foxy Brown movie. They’re out pitching for that right now [inaudible]. He left to go run Martin [inaudible] and he was like, “We got the perfect guy.” I was 21 [inaudible] now I’m at Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I remember meeting Will at the…and I was a little bit of a dog. I remember I went to meet them at a…what hotel is this…this big hotel in Beverly Hills. It will come to me. Four Seasons. And so when I showed up at the Four Seasons, I’m a hood. I show up my hair braided, I’ve got on [inaudible] slippers and I’m showing up in this fancy restaurant and Will sees me and falls out laughing. I go, he’s real out loud, I love him already.
And so to this day Will and I are still tight. We just sat and just talked about what he wanted to do and how I saw the show. He and Benny Medina were both like the main and they blessed me and that really set me off in terms of my writing career because I did really well over there as well. That’s how my beginners happened. It was interesting back then I had…I could tell you this, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had 15 writers. So a lot of people and they only has me [inaudible] and Kenny Snider. They brought in Myer Williams later. So we heard it was four writers out of the 15 [inaudible] was there. That how me and [inaudible] met. That’s like my baby there. That’s my girl. But it was a really great experience because I got to meet somebody like [inaudible] and we got to…she’s Jewish, I’m black, we would just sit and have these really deep cultural conversations as I would teach her how to play dominoes.
There was also Eddie Gorodetsky who created Mum on CBS. He’s another good friend and he was very musically eclectic so we would always vibe on music. So all of these experiences and conversations and relationships I developed between these two shows allowed me to open up my mind and think what more broadly. And then I already did but you’re one of the hood, you can’t talk to your hommies about Culture Club. They don’t understand that shit. And that’s who I was. I was a huge Culture Club fan, I was a big Norman Lear guy and then I became a gigantic John Hughes fan. John Hughes is probably…he and Norman Lear are the two people that got me interested in actually writing TV. Susan Harris is the one that made me go, “I got to do this shit, because I loved Golden Girls, I loved everything that she did from a female perspective. I just was just infatuated with her and her writing style.
Norman Lear was more socially conscious and was dealing with sort of the backdrops at the time was gave me that sort of foundation but then Susan Harris really just gave me the funny. Like how to make funny characters whether it be socially or political [inaudible] is probably my biggest hero.
Ashley: At what point did you get an agent through this process? Were you able to just jump from show to show without an agent or did you at some point get an agent?
Devon: You know, this is how I got an agent. Earle Hyman told me, he said, “Don’t worry they’ll come to you.” Sure enough it was like they heard there was gold in them hills and there’s black writer who’s doing pretty well and he doesn’t have any representation so everybody was coming up to the show just wanting to meet me. My first agent was Tim McNeal over at ICM. He got me, understood me, understood what I wanted to do and he came highly recommended, so I was like, “Fuck it.” I was weird. I didn’t even go to like agent meetings. That’s how crazy my story is. They came to me. So my first few years in the game was probably I would say pretty different than a lot of people’s experience coming into it. I was just blessed to have the experience that I had in the way it happened.
Ashley: Yeah, so I wonder if you can just now…all these years later, could you give us some advice? What do you see as the best path of someone’s coming up, they wanna break in as a TV writer. What would you recommend to them as just the best path to becoming a staff writer?
Devon: I’ll be honest with you, this has always been the hardest [inaudible] because [inaudible] the traditional way. I talked to other writers, they all get in through a lot of these relationships. The first thing I would honestly say to people who wanna write, because I used to carry around boxes of book…I would buy these boxes of books called The Screenwriter’s Bible and anytime I would meet anybody that said they wanna write, I would pop the trunk open and I’d go, “Here’s a book.” The funny thing is most of people would be like, “I don’t wanna read me no book!” And I’d say, “No, you have to understand the [inaudible] and the rules of writing.” If you don’t understand just those basic concepts you can’t even engage in this process. So I would tell people to write and write what you feel, now write what you think other people want you to read and we’ve all done it as new writers.
I was a huge fan of certain writers of course my early writing sort of emulated some of those people’s style people’s styles. The reason why I said write, write, write is because then and only then do you begin to establish your own voice. That’s number one. Because once you establish your own voice it’s like a snow flake, right? You will stick out when you go to submit your scripts. Your script is more likely not gonna read like anything else that they’re reading in the [inaudible]. That’s how you wanna separate yourself. That’s number one. I use this perfect example but I can’t say what the project is because it’s unofficial and we didn’t book it but we got a title to this movie and now we’re just gonna turn it into a TV show and [inaudible].
I was doing a Mary J movie and I said, I don’t have time to really think about it because the movie I had to do it as a show. But long story short, my wife and I came up with this idea and we decided, it was left of what I think anybody would have thought. And we just developed this pitch and sure enough we are called…this all happened in a 24 hour period. I called the executive, I said I got an idea [inaudible]. She said, “I love it, can you pitch it tomorrow?” I was like, “Damn, okay.” And then the next thing you know we’re pitching this show and we knocked out the rest of the competition because our perspective was miles on the other end of the spectrum of what other people were doing, so it separate us to the point, they just stopped meeting with people.
And so I said that to say people especially in this day and age, back in the day they wanted to know if you can write so and so because that’s how you got stuff [inaudible]. If you can write like…if you can emulate a script from [inaudible] they’re gonna want that spec because they wanna know you can come on a show and write. Nowadays everything is so wide open with so many platforms and so many opportunities and so many places trying to set their own identity and create their own brand. They’re not looking for the traditional spec. They’re looking for something that has somebody else’s finger prints on it, experience, there’s nuances that’s left to anything we thought about, something outrageous, something different, something dark, something uncommon, so that’s number one.
Number two is really relationships. I would suggest, because I never heard this works somebody sending in a script to an agency and it they called them back. That’s very rare. I think working on a set anywhere you can will probably be your best bet. Whether it’s a PA, make up guy, whatever it is. A driver or whatever it is, find your way to a set because then you’ll have that direct connection and conversation because here’s the thing about Hollywood that they’re not gonna tell you, nobody fucking reads anymore. That’s the guy zone of truth. And what I mean by that is you used to have executives take home 15, 20 scripts a weekend, they might throw, find the best and find writers…they won’t do that shit no more.
They go, “Hey, I got this show. I need a writer that can do this.” And they’ll call and ask, “Hey, I have a writer.” A writer comes in and talks about it and they may read your spec or may read a sample where they just go, “Hey,” they look at your credits and go, “He’s good enough, let’s go. Because there’s such high competitive market right now finding material and finding product. People feel like that cord of it is not necessary.
Ashley: I wanna go back on just one thing you said, because you hear this often is that write something that’s very distinct and that’s in your voice. Have a very clear and original voice. I wonder I there’s some specific scripts, maybe it’s even a feature script or some pilot script for TV shows that you could point us to and say, “I read this scripts,” and those are scripts where the writers really had a distinct voice.
Devon: I can point to a few. I can start with Atlanta and move backwards. Atlanta is nothing like you’ve ever read before, it’s nothing you’ve seen before. And it’s beauty is its simplicity. It’s just a peek into a cultural window of the south that we haven’t seen before. That’s what I mean. I’ll tell you this, FX bought it and I quote, they said, “We have no idea what we bought [ laughs] but it was interesting.” You go to [inaudible]. You go to Breaking Bad. Meth teacher, I mean [inaudible] meth dealer and you’re watching a guy go from a good guy to a villain which is usually the opposite in most of your character development. You see how the character standard doctrines got him to a more enlightened and better place, but this actually went backwards. One of my favorite movies to this day, was two movies. It’s gonna be very silly when say this.
It’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because Ferris never changed through the whole movie which broke typical character development rules. Your character is supposed to grow at the end of the film. Ferris Bueller doesn’t grow out of a shit. People around him are changed by him. And I like a lot of great movies. Don’t judge me when I say this but Adventures in Babysitting. I’m gonna tell you why I love that movie. That’s when I learned about purposeful writing. They don’t set up anything they do not pay off in that movie. Not one thing, I don’t care how small it is, how big it is. When you look at those kind of movies, those are the movies you go, “Wow, that’s different [inaudible]. That’s interesting. I love Baby Driver for example. I thought Baby Driver was incredible. Anything that’s just different and unique…Memento.
I’m a big Chris fan anyway but I love everything he did for Memento to the Batman Astrology. It’s just how he is able to take it and give it his own finger print [inaudible]. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking at how you’re seeing the world, not how you think we want you to see the world. What is the popular opinion versus the new or maybe the unpopular opinion of a story and telling it from that perspective and telling it from your heart not just head. That’s the other thing. You got to tell the story from your heart. The head is how you express the story. The heart is where it lives and breathes. That’s how you see something. If I see something about race or I see something about a subject matter that I have a unique way I feel like it hasn’t been discussed, I’ll immediately write that and see what happens.
People are looking for things like that right now. Something that’s gonna shock you out of this malaise that we’re in. Especially with Trump, there’s so much noise out there, so much darkness. People are looking for light. They’re looking for something different and a different perspective and maybe a different solution. I don’t know. But just be different is what I tell people.
Ashley: Is anybody and is it useful these days to write a spec of an existing show as part of your repertoire or writing samples or is it just all original as you said?
Devon: I think nothing more. It’s about originality because inside of that originality I might find a show there. So it’s a double sword and it says that I’ll get a spec and a sample of your writing but I may also give free development in the sense of wow, this kid wrote this spec, and not only is he good, I think we should shoot it. So that’s why I said write this thing that you’ve always wanted to write and inspires you. But I tell people if you’re gonna take the time to do that learn the craft. Learn the structure. Learn how to do character development. Learn how to write dialogue. The biggest thing is learn how to rewrite. You don’t wanna start writing till you rewrite. I’m pretty sure you’ve hear that a number of times.
That’s where the writing takes place, it’s in the rewrite. The first draft is to get it shot out of the system so you don’t go crazy [laughs]. Then you go back and then if you’re honest with yourself and you’ve done your work in terms of understanding how to write a script, you will know what sucks and [inaudible]. You got to be your worst critic. When I did Mad TV the best lesson I learned there was…because you had to go to this room and pitch it, I don’t like to be race [inaudible] and a lot of shit but you know, me and [inaudible], we were the only black guys there, so we couldn’t go in a half ass. If we were to go fight for something we had to believe in this thing. There was a time he sat and the room and go, “I don’t think this shit is worth fighting for. This actually kind of sucks.”
So you have to learn that about yourself. Instinctually go…because everything you write is not good. Every joke you tell ain’t funny. Every story you have is not interesting. So you have to be smart enough and honest enough with yourself to kind of look back on some things and go, “Shit, let me rewrite that, that’s not good.” Don’t think everything you write the first time because you’ve finished it means it’s good. It’s not good just because you finished.
Ashley: Yeah, sound advice. I get a lot of emails from nervous writers who have an original idea, they’ve written up a pilot for a series and they’re asking, well, how can I get this pitch to a network. My advice is always…I don’t even know if there’s any examples of a complete novice getting a show on on air. Even as there’s a ton more platforms like Netflix and Hulu, if you look at the people that are creating those shows, pretty much all of them have some pedigree in television. And so what is your advice for that? First off, is that something that you’ve seen? Have you heard of someone who’s a complete novice, they’ve got an original idea and it actually made it to production? And what do you recommend to somebody like that?
Devon: I believe it has happened. Rarely though and I mean that in every sense of the word of what rarely means. I think the tough thing now is that this town is about relationships, right? You damn don’t need an agent to be 100% honest with you. If you make the right connection with the right people you can get that opportunity. The hustle has changed. The way to get in has changed and that’s because of a number of things. We got multiple platforms, you have YouTube and Hulu and all these other things that you can actually upload and shoot your own stuff now. They got consumer friendly cameras and editing equipment. There’s nothing stopping people, so for me the people that are starting to get more lux that anything else, because you got to understand this too, Hollywood is lazy.
I’ll use Issa Rae as an example Issa Rae or Aqua Black Girl on HPO [inaudible] for a number of years. I think it was two or three years and she just wrote something about again, how she felt being an Aqua Black Girl. I’m not the typical black girl that you see, I live in the hood, I have a different experience and perspective. She wrote that in a way which it came like an interesting character. They looked at her views and said, “Hey, we got to bring this girl in.” She knew nothing. She’ll tell you all day long she don’t know. She had about TV, production, she learned all of that on the floor which is what I had to bring the show running and to run her show over at [inaudible]. But that’s an example of how somebody from this generation, millennial generation has gotten on. Everything is by likes and followers now.
That doesn’t help writers per se because you can’t just polish your script and then other people like it. They will steal it. It was good. But they had to Blacklist all of those things that you can submit for and that’s another option to do that. I’ve seen writers who are novice make the Blacklist and get agents from that or some have even gotten their movies produced. Not all get their movies produced but most of them get agents and opportunities to write other things. So the Blacklist, if it’s just good enough submit to the Blacklist. I don’t have them all on my fingertips but there’s other screen writing links and labs that you can submit your stuff to that allow you that you that opportunity [inaudible] like the Blacklist has a direct connection to these agencies.
So they’re constantly looking at the Blacklist and who made it and that sort of thing. So find those links and submit there as well. If you can, get on the lot. Swallow your pride. I did it for two or three years. I was a PA, I was a runner, I was all of those things. Don’t be afraid to do that because that’s another way to get to close proximity of the people who are in charge. You get to understand how it works from the inside and then you can try to figure out how best you can use that to your benefit. I mean, it sounds sort of broad. I wish it was more specific but I’d be lying to you if I said it is you do this and this and that’s gonna get you in but that’s how it works.
Ashley: That’s great advice. Let’s talk about your film Two Minutes of Fame. Maybe you can just tell us what that’s all about real quick.
Devon: Two Minutes of Fame is…it’s funny that we’re talking about this. It’s about a standup comic played by Jay Pharoah who’s an internet comic. When I was talking to Jeff Clanagan who brought the idea to me for his brand for this comedy tour that he does, he was just saying how he would get these YouTube comics and they’re funny in 30 second or one minute bites but when you get them on stage, he said they don’t have two minutes to fill. And so we started just talking about it and I’ve always had this thing about millennials being a fast push button generation. There’s genius in their generation and there’s also laziness because we have information that’s just available to you. You don’t have to actually physically get up and pursue it or go look for it.
It creates a sort of malaise and a laziness to find any information. But at the same time what they’ve done with the internet I think is pretty fucking genius that all people need to get together and get on this. Two Minutes of Fame is about an internet comic who does his viral videos, he picks a beef with let’s say like an Eddie Murphy type character played by Katt Williams, a comic who used to be one of the top [inaudible] of comedians but he’s gone into the family film route and you can tell he just grabbed his paydays and he sort of lost his comedic mojo. It’s about when this comedy competition reaches out to Jay Pharoah’s character and says, “Hey, you need to come to LA, we want to put you on this competition because you’re funny and your video had over a million hits on it.
Again that’s what brings them in, not even [inaudible] is funny or not, he has a million hits, it bring them in and he goes through the competition barely getting by and he’s doing comedy from this very superficial silly place [inaudible] he runs into the Katt Williams character and they end up striking up a mentorship and the guy is telling him if you wanna be funny you got to dig dep. So it becomes this relationship unbeknownst to Jay Pharoah’s character that Katt Williams is slowly sabotaging him. But they get something from each other. Katt learns…he gets infused with [inaudible] energy to go back on stage because of these guys pushing him to get back on stage and challenging him in a way that shook him and woke him up which is what he needed.
And Jay Pharoah’s character learning the work ethic and how to dig deep and how to become…there’s a difference between a comic and a comedian, and he wants to be a comedian. And so in order to be a comedian he has do dig deeper, so he learned that lesson from each other and that’s sort of the show. That’s the movie in a nutshell.
Ashley: What’s the status of that? Do you know when it’s gonna be finished?
Devon: It’s done. We’ve finished doing it. I’m told it’s gonna be released sometime this year in September. It’s an amazing film, look out for it.
Ashley: Perfect. I just always like to wrap up the interviews by asking the guest how people can keep up with what you’re doing, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, anything you’re comfortable sharing. Just tell us that now and I’ll round all that stuff up for the show notes.
Devon: Yeah, I’m @devon_shepard on twitter. Same thing with my Facebook. Instagram I’m devon_shepard on Instagram and I’m always talking shit and being political. Check me out.
Ashley: Perfect. I look forward to following you. Devon, thanks for coming on and taking this fascinating interview. I don’t know a lot about TV writing so it was great having you on. I get a lot of questions about it so I know this is gonna give people a lot of great information.
Devon: I hope so. I hope it’s helpful. Write, write, write. That’s my final message to everybody.
Ashley: Exactly, exactly. Perfect, you take care. I really appreciate it.
Devon: Ashley I appreciate it man, thank you.
Ashley: Thank you, talk to you later.
Devon: You got it, bye.
I just wanna mention a new service that I recently launched at Selling Your Screenplay. I built the SYS Select Screenplay data base. Screenwriters can upload their screenplays along with a log line, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre and then producers search through the database, hopefully find a screenplay they like, option it and hopefully eventually produce it. I’m adding features to this program every day, so ultimately it will be the main hub for all of the SYS Select services. If you’re a member of SYS Select already you should have already received your log in information. If you haven’t please let me know so I can get that to you. I’ve already got dozens of producers in the system looking for screenplays. To learn more about this just go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing filmmaking brothers screenwriter Austin Ramsay and his directing brother Julius Ramsay. They just did a cool high concept thriller called Midnighters and we talk through that process of how they got that film produced, and I’ll just give you a hint, they just went out and made things happen for themselves. So it’s another great story of two guys just writing a script and then going out there raising money and producing a film. Keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Devon. I would highly encourage you to check out Devon’s IMDb page so you can get a real sense of what he’s done over the last couple of decades. Again, he’s got a real good track record working on a lot of big TV shows. It’s amazing to me after talking to him what he was able to do all before he got an agent. I think so many writers have this misconception that the first thing you need to do is get an agent and then that leads to your first big break. And so often it’s the other way around. Getting some work as a screenwriter, as a TV writer often will lead you to your first agent.
So don’t get too caught up in trying to find an agent if you’re just starting out on this journey. I think his advice, just trying to get on set and be around people who are making things happen is spot on. I’ve talked about this often on the podcast. About the time I published episode number 75 of the SYS Podcast I wrote a blog post basically why I went back and looked at the first 75 guests on the podcast and just made a chart on how they broke into the business. I will link to it in the show notes if you haven’t already looked at that, but far and away the biggest way people broke in was networking and specifically working in the industry. They got a little level job working in the industry. If you can afford to do that, that’s definitely the tried and true way of getting into the business.
But really if you listen to what Devon is saying, his advice at the heart is very, very similar. I mean, you don’t necessarily have to take a low level job in the business to be around these people but you do need to get around these people, in his case hanging out at a barber shop, doing standup comedy, he was meeting other writers, he was meeting other producers. Again, that’s getting into the business. It’s getting around these people that are all making things happen and potentially they might be able to hire you, they might be able to help you and likewise I’m sure there goes the other way as you move on in your career you’ll help other people and then those people maybe they would leapfrog ahead of you in their careers and then they could come back and help you.
The more people you know, just the more chance you have of getting work, getting opportunities, learning the business. All of that is great stuff. As I said, sort of the tried and true is getting that low level job but Devon just presented a great case for doing some standup comedy, hanging out with those people, becoming friends with the people that are in the business already working in the business and then again opportunities can open up for you. And at the heart of a lot of the advice that I give out is very, very similar. Going out, writing and producing a short film or even a feature film. It’s very similar. At the heart of that advice is very similar advice. You’re going out there, you’re doing something and then you’re meeting other people.
If you write and produce your own short film or your own feature film, as you make that film you’ll meet a ton of local actors, local crew people. These are all people you can network with, become friends with, get to know and again, all of your careers you can help each other out and all of your careers you can advance together. You can enter this short film or this feature film in a film festival potential or you can go and meet other like-minded filmmakers, and again it’s another way just to network. Even if you don’t even have a film you can still go to film festivals. You can still go to these sorts of networking opportunities. Again, make that part of your life part of your schedule. See if you can find ways to get to local festivals, meet local filmmakers even if you’re not producing your own films. It’s another just simple, easy way to get out there and meet people.
You can send your film…again if you write and produce a short film you can start to send it to distributors. You can send it to other producers. And again, these are gonna be conversations. Even if you’re pitching a feature film, if you have a really well written, really well produced short film, you can include that link in your pitch to producers. It’s another conversation starter. Just another way to get that conversation going, network with people and show people what you can do…what your writing, what it can actually look like when it’s produced. Again, I think the heart of Devon’s advice, I think the heart of my own advice is just getting out there and meeting people.
Obviously you need to spend a lot of time writing and working on your craft, watching movies, reading scripts and a ton of just writing new material, because that’s ultimately really the base to all this, is that new material you’re writing, is that getting better as a writer. But there’s that whole other aspect, the networking and getting out there. I think a lot of people, I mean Devon comes at this from a standup comedian background so he is probably by nature more outgoing and personable than a lot of writers and I’m sort of in that category of a writer who just likes to be by themselves and write and that kind of thing.
So you might have to get out of your comfort zone. For a standup comedian, you know, going out and networking probably isn’t as far outside his comfort zone. But writers, as writers we have to do that too. That’s part of the gig is just meeting people. No one in the film business is an island. No one can do this on their own. It’s a very collaborative process. The sooner you get out there and the more people you meet, the better off you’re gonna be. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.