This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 046: An Interview With TV Writer Arnold Rudnick.
Ashley: Welcome to episode 46 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger at sellingyourscreenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment I’m interviewing Arnold Rudnick. Arnold is a television writer. Over the course of his career he sold several TV spec scripts and we talk about how he did it. He’s really got a ton of useful information for both TV writers and feature writers so stay tuned for that.
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A couple of quick notes. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast may be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts. And then just look for episode 46. Also, if you want my free guide “How To Sell a Screenplay In Five Weeks”, you can pick that up by going to 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, how to write a professional log line inquiry letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now, let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with television writer, Arnold Rudnick. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Arnold, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Arnold: Thanks very much, Ashley. I’m glad to be here.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career and how you broke in?
Arnold: Sure. That’s probably a little more complicated because I have to say by which career. But since we’re talking about writing, I moved out to California from the Midwest knowing I wanted to work in film or TV and pretty early on realized that writers control material and I enjoyed writing and set a goal of that. While I was writing and learning to write, I worked in feature development at Paramount Pictures and worked with producers and got a really good introduction to scripts with the Paramount Story Department and saw that pretty much every idea kind of has been written and when I was working in feature development, I made the decision to focus on writing in television. One of the first bits of advice that I got when I moved out here, one of the best bits of advice was from a television producer who asked me what I wanted to do, and being new or young, I answered honestly I wanted to work in film or television, and she looked at me and said “when you’re talking to a television producer, you want to work in TV.” And that really stuck with me as an answer whatever your career is to focus. After writing a bit I teamed up with a partner whom I went to college with, a friend of mine, and we made the decision to team up for at least a decade because we by then understood that you’re a product, you’re a commodity, and an agent or a manager needs to market you so even though you can write, whether it’s books, television shows, scripts, or greeting cards, focusing gives the people who help you a handle on how to sell you. So we were a team; we were a sitcom writer team, and we wrote script after script. We did spec scripts for every top show, and our first opportunity for a produced show was an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It was an amazing experience. We got the opportunity to pitch the show because my writing partner was on staff as a writer’s assistant at the show, and that’s his own story how you break in to get those jobs, that it really does come down to who you know, but the good thing is when you live in LA, you get to know the people you need to know.
Ashley: Now by this point did you have an agent when you went in to pitch the Fresh Prince of Bel Air?
Arnold: Oh, absolutely. We actually had an agent. We’d also been accepted to the Warner Brothers Comedy Writers Workshop so it kind of was all the same year and the agent was sending out our scripts and having three or four spec scripts that were written for existing episodes. By the time we got our Fresh Prince episode, we actually wrote an original pilot, and that’s something you see more today where an original pilot is a way of showing your voice and with the changing landscape and shows having such structured parts, it’s hard to decide what to write a spec for because you write a spec for a show you can only do this until the producers kill off that character or gets them [not understood 0:05:17.9] if you’re writing for drama, you have to kind of not counter to the existing show. And for your listeners too, something that I heard and found to be absolutely true is when you’re writing specs for television shows, you’re writing the absolute best script you can for that episode and you’re expecting it to absolutely never be made. And it’s a little frustrating when you read it but—and friends of mine had their specs and said “I saw that show on TV” because you want it to come off the page and be the voice of the characters but for legal reasons the producers of the shows are generally not going to be able to look at that.
Ashley: Tell me about your agent. How did you guys even get to those first beginning steps were you able to get an agent?
Arnold: That was sending out sample scripts. We worked with the WGA list. (The Writers Guild of America has a list of agents who will accept new writers’ material). And we’ve always been very proud to join the WGA and appreciate what they do to represent writers and you know that if agents are working within that structure, no writer should ever pay to be read by an agent, all of those kinds of warnings so we ended up working with and interviewing a few agents and I think at the time we got our agents—let me correct myself—I think we signed with the agent while we were being accepted to the writers workshop, and then we also got the Fresh Prince episode. It certainly helped that we could tell the producers at Fresh Prince we have an agent to send our material over. That just shows we’re serious about what we’re doing. By the same token, our agent didn’t get us that job. Many, many of the jobs we’ve gotten came through our outreach, our tenacity, our fans, but some of them came a hundred percent through agents. We were staffed on New Adams Family and that came strictly through our script being in a stack of dozens that were sent over to producers.
Ashley: One quick thing I want to go back to, you said you moved to LA. Did you know anybody in LA because I think a lot of people are always fearful about just moving to a new city where they don’t know anybody? Did you know anybody? What was that transition like?
Arnold: That was a pretty exciting transition. My wife and I moved out together so I had a roommate which was great. And when I moved out we had family down in Whittier so we stayed with them for three days until we found a place to live, and I did have a family friend—everybody will find they know somebody at some level—and the family friend of ours who was working in the industry was an executive. He was at NBC and actually was the person who introduced me to the TV producer and gave me lifelong advice. That led to a production job. That led to being a PA eventually and that’s an important thing whether you’re a writer or looking to break into the biz, I interviewed with this producer and I sent him a thank-you note. And the same advice you’re going to read in “What Color Is My Parachute” or any college guide, I stayed in touch as I got my own job in the Paramount Family Department and I moved up in other divisions, I always stayed in touch with where I was. And when a job opened up, they needed a warm body to be a PA on the show. I actually got the call and got the job offer. Just like with writing, you’re not going to get hired to write a show if you don’t have all those specs ready to show, not the promise of I can write it if you hire me. You’ve got to be a writer before they hire you.
Ashley: Now just going back to your story about getting that agent. When you say you got the WG list—and this was in the mid-90’s so it’s basically cold query letters at that point, no emails or anything like that, just basically you writing a query letter, putting it in an envelope, stamping it, and sending it to the agent?
Arnold: Absolutely. There are rules of numbers and I like working with them. I’ve heard people tell me it’s your tenth script that sells and so you’ve got to write and write and write but that can’t be the same script you rewrite ten times. I’ve heard it takes 100 rejections to get an agent. Well, in our case, we were pursuing an agent that we could get referrals to or that we knew were accepting; we had our body of work. So we would sit there and say okay, this rejection counts for ten. So I think we pursued maybe six to eight agents, and we ended up getting an agent and it’s great from a confidence standpoint. I think a lot of people are like oh, once they get an agent there’s going to be work. That’s not the case and, in fact, getting an agent I think is easier—if that is a word I can use—as long as they understand that you know you’ve got to market yourself; you’ve got to reach out. You’ve got to talk to your fans; you’ve got to develop your fans by working with people, by talking with people, and have them appreciate you work, that it’s not just talent. It’s also the tenacity and the determination that you’re going to stick with it because they’re going to be investing time in you, and they want to know that you’re going to continue beyond just writing one script and asking them to send it out.
Ashley: Sure. Now when you say you had your body of work, so you’re sending out these cold query letters, how many scripts had you guys written at this point when you started to approach the agents?
Arnold: Oh gosh! We’d written the Seinfeld, a Rosanne, Mad About You. Mad About You I think is what got us the Warner Brothers writers’ workshop. Our most recent script is always our best. I mean, I’ve had favorites before then but because it embodies everything we’ve learned along the way, we had had at least a half dozen solid scripts but we probably started reaching out to agents when we had about three or four solid ones.
Ashley: Did the Warner Brothers workshop; was that like a part of it? Had you been accepted into that and so that was fodder for your query letter or just it happened. It seems like something like that would carry a lot of weight and that might have been why these agents were interested in you is that you’ve been accepted to this Warner Brothers workshop.
Arnold: I’m going to jump ahead because I honestly don’t remember the time with that. I should and that’s a really good question. It was kind of congruent because we put a lot of time in. I want to jump back and say too that when my partner and I agreed to team up, we had each written three or four scripts on our own that were pretty solid. I’m going to change my answer to that because even if that were the catalyst to our first agent, we later were with agencies and we had two-pilot deal with the cable company, and we had been with an agency representing us more in features and we wanted the coverage in television. And we could not get the first agents we reached out to with that two-pilot deal to take that and write the agreement for us. That case we actually got representation at a pretty decent agency through a friend whom I had developed at Paramount and who is an agent there and who believed in us and believed it was worth—you know, you’d you could negotiate the deal on two pilots.
Ashley: Because I really think that’s worth repeating because I get people emailing me and they’ve got a producer interested in optioning their script, but it’s a one-dollar option. Oh, do you think an agent would be interested in it. It’s like I think that people fail to understand exactly how competitive things are and if you had trouble as you say with a two-pilot deal finding a good agent, there is a long distance between that and a one-dollar option. So it’s very difficult to get a good agent.
Arnold: And we did end up getting someone who was great and who we were in bed for awhile after but it wasn’t what people assume which is I just have to make a call and he’ll do this. It takes work, and if it didn’t take work even more people would be doing it. It takes work, but that kind of makes it worthwhile too and it weeds out people who maybe aren’t really in it for the right reasons. What I would say is you’ve got to love to write. If you’re coming into Hollywood to be a writer to make money, then there are lots of other avenues to make a living.
Ashley: And they’re much easier avenues to make a lot of money than screenwriting.
Arnold: Yeah, for some reason it almost seems like whatever you want to do, it’s a hard way to go because you want it so much and people end up falling into offers or opportunities because (a) They’re not trying so hard, and some of it is timing—Hollywood is definitely timing and luck—but it’s not without preparation. You can’t be in the right place at the right time without having identified are you a sitcom writer, are you a drama writer, are you a feature writer and when you say that, being able to back it up. We didn’t call ourselves feature writers until we had three or four written features with an agent, and we didn’t pursue that until after we had firmly done a body of work in television.
Ashley: So I think we have a good idea of how you got that first pitch with the Fresh Prince of Bel Air producers. I wonder if you could just talk briefly about some of the other spec shows because I know there are a lot of people out there that would love to get into the pitching and of spec episodes. Maybe just looking at your resume, you have a Star Trek Voyager, Hope and Glory, Silk Stockings, Pacific Blue, maybe you could just tell us how you sold some of those spec scripts?
Arnold: Star Trek has a reputation of being open. Anybody can pitch the Star Trek which is great. For me it was personally rewarding because I was born on the same day that Star Trek was that they premiered. I’m not a Trekkie or a Trekker but I learned that when I was working at Paramount Pictures and I was involved in the feature team to create a proof when they did Star Trek Six. And I was on the lot where the Star Trek offices were, and I went in and I made friends and again, they were open to taking pictures because they needed the material and even now with all the cable and Netflix, and Amazon, Distant Avenues, I mean, people need material. People like to work with people they know and so we had the opportunity to come in and pitch. We did a story. Star Trek Voyager was one of the more—it did have some troubles during its production, findings its show. We loved working on it, having the opportunity. We didn’t get a chance to write the script and again at that time we hadn’t written hour television. We since wrote some hour episodes and those came through a fan from the Fresh Prince Days and the other stuff who just was an amazing mentor who gave us an opportunity. When we were staff New Adams Family, we had that opportunity to meet the writers and assign some specs. It was a great thing for writers to know while it certainly can be changing over time; the Writers Guild realizes that new writers have to get their start. They encourage, if not require shows to have a certain number of episodes in a season be written freelance. It’s hard to write freelance because you’re not on staff, you’re not in the room, you’re not hearing what the plan is for a character and for a whole season and all of these things that are designed to try and make sure viewers stay with the show and feel like they can’t miss it. It’s really great when you can pick up a show and just watch any one of them and it doesn’t matter if you can see the others. But that doesn’t help the advertising for networks, but they do bring in freelancers and give freelancers that chance, but I think it was three scripts out of 22 seasons or 21 seasons would be done by freelancers. I had been working features for a long time so I loved the television model. The television model of a group of creative minds sitting in a room and kind of brainstorming together was just thrilling and character features that also had writer after writer after writer, but they wouldn’t be working on it together. One person would write the script and they’d be replaced by somebody who was strong in story, then by somebody who was a dialog person, and television to me was faster and it’s what I grew up on. It’s why I wanted to work in entertainment. So having grown up watching sitcom TV shows.
Ashley: When you say a show like Star Trek Voyager they would take pitches from anybody. I mean, what exactly does that mean? I mean it was before websites so obviously you wouldn’t necessarily set up a pitch on a website, but did you have to have an agent? How did you facilitate that meeting?
Arnold: We actually had an agent and we did get in and pitch. We set up our meeting. Again, you’re on the studio live. What better way to meet people! If you’re living in Hollywood, somewhere, somehow when you’re working, you have the opportunity to meet people who are other writers that may be part of the group or some support team who are agents or managers, and I think one of the biggest things I could segue to a bit of advice is don’t have an attitude. I drive really carefully in California because you never know who you may be cutting off if you don’t. Same way for people in the industry, and don’t think oh, you’re an agent’s assistant; I want an agent because that’s how people become agents. They work as an assistant for an agent, and you’re going to have a stronger, hungrier champion in a young agent or an agent’s assistant than somebody who’s got their client list of A-list writers, stars and directors who have grown up with them so you’re not pursuing the top agent at C. A. Endeavor, the names of the agencies again, but you’re wanting to get somebody who’s young, who’s building a client list, you want to realize that when an agent picks up the phone to sell a writer, they’re going to have a dozen writers to sell, and they may send over, like our agent did, they may send over a dozen writers for one assignment on the show. And you can’t tell them no, I’m the only sitcom team you can represent or they’re just going to say sorry, I can’t represent you because it’s a numbers game for them. But you’re wanting them to at least get you in the door, and that’s where it goes back to that luck and persistence, tenacity, and effort because at the end of the day, any one of these things, just like a job interview, everything you do whether it’s a friendship, whether it’s a working relationship, you’re trying to get your script in the door. Once they read the script, it’s really up to you. A lot of people go to pitch events or pitch meetings, and once the director or manager or producer says okay, send me the script, just stop talking because that’s the best answer you can get. Nobody’s going to hear you pitch and say okay, we’ll buy it. They’re going to have to read it on the page. I think the biggest thing I’d want to segue there is if you’ve got a great idea for a TV series, write it. The standard would be write for other shows to show you can write, work your way up as a staff writer, work to a producing level, then write privately when you’ve got a deal because you’ve been doing it and that is how you need to do it, but if you start saying let me pitch this and you haven’t written any television, it’s very hard for somebody to see that and know how is this going to be realized. How are you going to view a hundred episodes or even twenty-two?
Ashley: Let’s dig into that a little bit more. That was definitely something I wanted to talk about because I get a lot of emails from people who have literally zero professional writing experience, but they’ve written a script for an original series. And I usually tell them it’s virtually impossible to sell that sort of an idea when they have no credits. I don’t know that there has ever been a series created by a complete newbie. But maybe I’m being too harsh. What sorts of steps can they take if they don’t have any writing experience? What can they do to try and get this original series off the ground? Is there anything? I mean, am I being too harsh or do you have any ideas for them?
Arnold: I think answering that question today vs. 20 years ago is a very different answer. If they’ve done the original script, they can possibly shoot it as a pilot presentation or a short. They can put it on YouTube. I know some reality shows have come from YouTube. I have seen the deals or read about the deals where shorts on YouTube lead to development deals whether it’s for the talent in front of the camera or behind. I think it’s more of a performers’ arena, but if you’ve got the original script, I think the question is how good is it and you need to have that support team whether it’s an agent or manager, a writers’ group, friends—my partner and I teamed up because he and I would read each other’s work and we really would give each other’s notes, and we saw and respected each other’s work. We can do a whole show just on being a writing team if you wanted to in the future, but it’s really important that you team up with somebody that brings something to the script that you don’t, that you also team up with somebody who is going to have that like mind, both in work ethic and sensibility. Nowadays if you’ve got an original pilot and it’s amazing, you’ve just got to have the right person to read it. So whether your route is working in offices and developing relationships and working for a celebrity who gets a development deal and reads your pilot, that may be a business plan towards getting your writing made. It’s a little less in your control. It’s a little bit more of a circuitous route than being a writer and writing and why writing existing shows is you want to show producers and network executives that you can deliver within the confines of an existing show. So one of the important things that we should say, that I imagine everybody listening has heard or may know, but if not, then they ought to be reminded you want to write for a show that everybody knows. If you like a show that’s on the fringe, it’s a great show but not getting the ratings or not everybody’s watching it and you send that as your spec, it’s not going to help the producers who don’t know the show to read that because they’re not going to know if you’ve captured the voice of Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. Another piece of advice is when you write your spec script; write for the shows that fit in characters. When I have given advice to people and read their scripts, so many of them have incredible story for a guest actor on the show so if they were going to do a Big Bang set because Big Bang is one of the top shows and they write it but they introduce a new character who’s not part of that universe and that character is vital to the plot, then they’re not really doing anything to show how they can do under structure. That doesn’t mean that they’re not going to turn on the TV next week and see exactly that type of story, but you’re held to a different standard when you’re writing a spec. That’s not okay. Good enough isn’t. You have to write the spec that has been described to me. Every word has to be gold because you are trying to take those words and turn them into money. You’re trying to turn them into value. So you need to make sure you capture the voice of the characters in that show. It’s very hard for an executive to read an original pilot and know if you’ve done that because it’s up to you to be creating those characters.
Ashley: Let’s talk about that for a minute, what kind of a mix a writer should have. As you mentioned earlier, it used to be in the 90’s everybody said don’t write original stuff, just write specs and now it seems to be the word on the street is you need a couple of original shows just to show your voice. What sort of a mix does a new writer have would you say, you know, two or three original pieces, two or three specs?
Arnold: I think that would be great. Yes, you want to have a really great spec and you’re asking people to take time to read your script so you’re not going to send them over six scripts to read; you’re just sending one, and you don’t want to waste their time. You want to send them the very best one you’ve got, but when they say send me something else, you want to follow up with something great if not better and somewhere in there I think you could introduce the fact that you’ve also got an original script. I think it depends on who you’re talking to. When you’re talking to a producer looking for television product, you’ve got your original script. When you’re talking to an agent looking at them representing you as a writer, you want to make sure they understand you know the rules. And you’re going to play by the rules. You can break them, but kind of like that conversation that I remember, it’s who you’re talking to—you’re not being dishonest but you’re being directed and focused. And what I would say is whether you’re writing three or six projects, write in the same genre and field at first. I’m a total believer in if you can write comedy, you can probably write drama and if you can write half-hour sitcoms, you can probably write hour shows too, but you really want to make sure that you’ve mastered one of those before you move on.
Arnold: So let’s talk about your career, how it’s evolved over the last few years and what you’re doing today both in the entertainment industry and out. I think that that’s kind of an interesting—I think it would be interesting to hear kind of what you’re doing.
Arnold: Absolutely. As I said, I was writing spec television while working in feature development and loving kind of the balance. When I did write full-time, that was great too on a show but when I was not on the show and I was writing full-time it took me full time. When I’ve been working in an office or working in a job, it helps me manage my time more and focuses my time because it becomes more valuable. So after writing a bit, I worked with a partner for a number of years and he moved back to the Midwest and we’re still working on some features together, great friends, but that gave me an opportunity to kind of reinvent my voice, and I wrote a middle-grade type book. Yes, Pete, Sixth Grade Sense which was fun. I hit kids. I once spent time with them. I was at school book fairs and so that gave me the opportunity and an outlet for my love of writing. I did have a backup plan. I wanted to make it a TV show and actually got a call about the rights a couple years later and am still working on that to be a project. But while writing I’ve also worked in business and accounting, and I have that as a backup and as a skill set. When I moved out here, I even combined accounting with film as my studies. And it’s something that helped me pay the bills and also gave me that opportunity to delve into my writing even when it sometimes takes a long time. It takes a while for agents and producers to read things. I’ve had people read feature scripts which I did move onto more especially with my partner when he was no longer in Los Angeles. If I can back up a bit, a lot of people want to live outside of LA. They want to work in entertainment. Things move. YouTube and Netflix is definitely an equalizer in the business, but if you want to write in Hollywood television, you’ve got to live in Hollywood. You’ve got to be here just because of the nature of the job, the way stories are put together especially Sitcoms even more. I think people have an idea that when you sell that first script, you’re home free and everything else you can ever do is going to sell. All you have to do is read the trades about a project Spielberg was trying to make or a project Clint Eastwood 15 years and you realize that everybody has to work at getting things made and the process itself is just requiters. And that luck and that timing, for a writer it’s very hard to be in a position where you’re paying all your bills based on a writer’s income. I made the decision I wanted to be an artist, not a starving artist. I’ve always wondered if I needed to pay the bills more by a script, would I have written a few more, but I’ve liked what I’ve chosen. I’ve liked what I’ve worked on and enjoyed the projects. The kids’ books, after writing Yes, Pete, I was invited to classrooms and had younger ages wanting to have something I could speak about so I wrote a kid’s book called Little Green about a straw who wants to be special and it’s become a passion project of mine with literacy and working with nonprofits and charities that’s really rewarding. And I got into television because I wanted to reach a large audience and change the world with positive messages so it’s kind of neat to be able to do that in other ways.
Ashley: I’m curious about the book. One thing (and I probably get at the opposite direction), I get a lot of emails from people who are novelists or they’ve written a book, maybe a children’s book but mostly it seems to be novelists and they’re emailing me saying I want to get my novel turned into a movie and how can I go about doing it. One of the things I worry about is that they’ve mostly self-published a novel. It hasn’t been a great success, and I just worry that they’re trading one very difficult thing which is making their novel a success, they’re trading that for another very difficult thing which really isn’t their full passion trying to get a movie made which is equally as difficult, and there’s some truth that they can get the movie made, it will help them generate sales on the novel. But I just worry that they’re going to end up really dividing their time and diluting the efforts that they make. Does that ever worry you that you’re spending time on something that may not—you are diluting yourself? As you say, you probably could have written a bunch more specs if you hadn’t written a book.
Arnold: You know that’s a really good question and perspective on it. I think it extends even beyond what you’ve pointed out too. I work with a lot of filmmakers who make independent features and they’re looking at the actual release solely because they need it in order to finance the DVD and cable and network and they won’t get as much if they didn’t have the actual release. There are filmmakers who self-fund and make their own films never to find a distributor. So while the world’s changing, I wish I had the technology out there today when I was in film school. I’m amazed to see—my son’s now 20 at UCLA, and I’m amazed to see the projects that he’s been doing and we’ve actually written a feature script together and a TV pilot. But basically for me, I find that having everything I’ve said about focus, the more I write, the better I write, and even when I was writing the television specs, I was writing letters to my grandma and coverage of feature scripts and stories and using words and evoking feelings, it is a learned process. The more you do it, the better you get. From a standpoint of focus, to clarify, I’m really suggesting that people who know you, you need to know what you want so you can map out how you’re going to get there, and if you know you want to be a TV writer, then you’ve got to focus on the TV scripts first. And for me I made the decision when my partner moved away and television was like okay, I can pursue TV knowing the hours and knowing my goals for family and things, I can pursue TV by writing a whole new body of independent specs because every single thing I wrote and every credit I had was Arnold Rudnick chose that, wonderful talent, great friends but it wasn’t Arnold Rudnick. So everything we talked about doing, I have to do for myself again, and that’s why the same too. I would say anybody contemplating teams, it will work with different partners for different reasons, but you definitely want to go into that with an understanding of what it means and what you’re creating and I made the choice instead of waiting for three or four specs with an independent writer, it goes into that book world for a couple reasons. It was a lot more on my own time, my own control and because it gave me that outlet to get it into the hands of children to read. And I love that aspect. We’ve got a few feature scripts that have only been read by Hollywood executives and it would be wonderful if those stories could be read wider. They may never get made. We’re certainly still pursuing avenues and sometimes it’s timing; sometimes it’s an attachment but there are so many great things in Hollywood that don’t get made for their own reasons so for me writing the book ended up inspiring me to towards other avenues of writing and along the way I have also continued working on features. Writing I realized at a certain point is when I started putting it on my tax return that I’m a writer, that’s what I had always wanted to be. I wanted to be an author and so whatever form I do it in for me now is great, but I would definitely say for someone new who’s sending you a book and saying I want this to be a screenplay, I think that’s actually a great way to get your idea into a book format to reach out to producers. I’ve got a published book available on Amazon self-published or not because a lot of great authors are self-published, to say I’ve got a book, but if they wanted it turned into a screenplay—and they want to do screenplay writers—they just need to write it. If they’re saying they’re going to send my book out and even if a producer reads it and says I love it, we want a script for it, what are they going to send the producer to show that they can write a film script?
Ashley: I say it’s a 50/50 but some of them are willing to sit there and write the script, but a lot of them are hoping that they can find a producer who will hire the screenwriter and pay the screenwriter to turn it into a script.
Arnold: That’s a great avenue towards getting their material an out and as a book I believe more producers, managers and executives will take a look at a book than they will a script and the reason is legal. When your book is available on Amazon and open for people to read, the accessibility of it is already evident. When you have a script the reason Hollywood demands an agent—and some people use lawyers and managers are great too—but the reason an industry professional is required is because the phrase “great minds think alike” is true and there is not as much original stuff as most people are going to assume. My education in the Paramount features was every time I started writing a feature script, a spec would come in from an agent; coverage would be attached to it and it would be a log line so I would shelve that project because it would be similar to something I had started writing. That again is why to avoid conflict of interest to void a kind of creative quagmire is why I decided to focus on TV. While I was focusing on TV, my friends from college, we would make short films together. He moved out and together we decided to write together.
Ashley: Have you written a script for your book “ESP Pete”?
Arnold: I have not. That’s a really great question and given my goals with it, it’s probably something I should consider doing. I’m also open to someone else interpreting it on that level. One of the producers asked me that. One of the producers asked me would I have to be advanced as a writer. And I would love to. The only difference for me is I do have a body of work that I can show as a writer, and part of that includes Rich Rosack and I have written together for years, we’re working on a feature project right now and if we had the opportunity to do this as a TV show, I would be thrilled to work with him again or now I’ve got a sample script with my son, one of the greatest writing experiences I’ve ever had. It was just fun. No money from it yet; I hope it sells but as a writer you start realizing that success in writing cannot be defined by the payment because if you’re waiting for payment, again, you’re not going to find the satisfaction in writing I don’t believe.
Ashley: Now you said this book has been optioned two times. Was it a self-published book or did you have an editor and a publisher?
Arnold: It is and self-publishing is something that I’m actually, as I said, have a background in business and accounting and I started as a [inaudible 0:42:30.6] publishing company and actually in works on a couple projects to publish for other authors and looking for other projects to publish, that I come to my learning curve as far as access to selling of books, the marketing which everything comes down to marketing whether it’s a TV show on the network to a feature in the theaters so I guess it’s self-publishing right now because right now the only two titles were written by me, Little Green which is about a frog asking isn’t it possible, has become my mantra because almost anything is possible when you start mapping out the way to get to it. And I hope that kids all over someday will know isn’t it possible the same way that I think I can was a catch phrase from “The Little Engine that Could”. I was thrilled when I learned that “The Little Engine That Could” was self-published by Dyne and Darnell. I chose not to use a pen name because it felt a little more honest and because I always wanted to be an author. I wanted my name on a book.
Ashley: So what did you do to get them optioned? It just was self-published and you sold enough copies that somehow a producer got it and called you up and wanted to option it?
Arnold: Absolutely. Paraphrase has its own business line and its own email and one of the greatest moments in my life was when I got that email that I used to send from the Paramount Picture Group to check on book rights saying Dear sir, are the film rights available for this book? I reached back out; I’m very up front with people about the reach and the sales and the purpose of the book, the message of the book. In one case it was a friend, an actor who loved the book, had read it and recommended it to a producer, and then the other case it was a producer who had read it, had run across it.
Ashley: Just randomly. He just randomly ran across it on Amazon or whatever.
Arnold: On Amazon or from somebody else, again, I’ve sold books through schools. I donated books through nonprofit charities promoting literacy. Fortunately the books are something that I’m not looking to pay bills with the sales of the books. Most book writers are not—other than J. K. Rowling and Twilight and that handful—most book writers are not making a living writing their books. And I think it’s important to not—there are not get rich quick schemes anywhere. There are certainly avenues towards a quicker salary or quicker income, and I think Hollywood is for people who enjoy creating and that the finance is not the main direction because if it is you’re going to get worn out much sooner than you will accomplish your goal. Another TV producer I met, another bit of advice I was given early on, three of them were, the first one when you’re talking to producers when you want to work in TV. The second one was whatever you want to do, give it ten years. In ten years you’ll be doing what you want, but that means being focused. And the third was that if you want to be a writer, kind of similar, it’s your tenth script that will sell. So maybe those are tricks towards not giving up, but it’s also not wrong to decide it may not be for you and deciding I don’t want to be doing this, and if you don’t, then there are so many other avenues and ways of working that you could look into, but if you write and love to write, then there are a host of ways to get in.
Ashley: I wonder as someone who’s an experienced TV writer, was there anything going into the writing these books that maybe your experience as a TV writer helped you make them seem more television-like or film-like just plotting them out or something and maybe that helped you option them. I wonder if there is anything—
Arnold: Absolutely. It goes both ways again. Writing is a learned process. A great friend executive I know had told me early on everyone’s on their own timetable but if you stick with it you can learn it. When you deal with sitcoms especially and television in a broader sense, it does come down to character and voice and I think that’s something that I enjoyed infusing in ES Pete and Little Green and I think that helps the reader follow along in much more of a visual way. I think storytelling in general is pretty similar. When you get into the experimental storytelling, then anything’s fair game, but if you’re doing traditional narratives and character-building, then wherever format you’re writing in, having that structure in there I think appeals to readers, and in the case of ES Pete, I think it did help producers read it and see how it could be a featured TV [not understood 0:48:07.6].
Ashley: So what’s the best way for people to contact you? You had mentioned the website for your publishing. You can mention that if you’re on Twitter. Maybe mention your Twitter handle, and I can link to all that in the show notes.
Arnold: Absolutely. I’m just getting started on Twitter, new technology to learn on @arnoldrudnick. I also have a Twitter for little green and that’s @isntitpossible and then I have websites for little green it’s www.isntitpossible.com and for ES Pete it’s www.espete.com.
Ashley: Perfect. As I said, I’ll put all that in the show notes so people can click on over there and learn more about that.
Arnold, you’ve been very generous. This has been a great interview. As I said, I haven’t done a lot of TV writing so I don’t know that much about it. I’ve learned a lot so this was really great. I appreciate you coming on the show.
Arnold: Again, really appreciate you having me and I’ve been helped by some wonderful, wonderful people and want to be able to repay that.
Ashley: If you’re looking for in-depth analysis of your screenplay by an industry veteran, I work with several script consultants. Check out sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants. All the consultants listed on that page have years of experience actually working in the entertainment industry. Right now we have a real working producer who will give you notes on your script and two screenwriters with actual screenwriting credits. These guys are real pros, not gurus or professional consultants. They are people who actually work in the business so if you’re looking for some high-quality notes on your current screenplay, check out sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
So I just wanted to touch on something that Arnold said. Arnold gave out a lot of practical information for TV writers and I think a lot of what he said could be applied to future writers as well. As I mentioned in the interview, I get a lot of emails from people who have never worked as a professional writer but they’ve written a pilot for an original show. I really agree with what Arnold said here. In this day and age, it’s relatively easy and cheap to go out and shoot something and put it on YouTube. I’ve been talking about this over the last few episodes but I really believe that just getting out there and taking the action is the best thing you can do for your career at any level. So I’ll just end on that note. Really start to think about how you can produce one of your scripts yourself.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.