This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 131: Stephan Bugaj And Justin Sloan Talk About Having A Career As A Creative Writer.
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Ashley: Welcome to episode #131 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and Blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. I’m talking with Stephan Bugaj, and Justin Sloan, who run the “Creative Writing Career Podcast.” Stephan and Justin have both worked in video games as writers and executives who hire writers. So, if you have ever considered turning your writing talent into a career writing video games? You’re not going to want to miss what they have to say. They also recently wrote a book where they interviewed a bunch of successful screenwriters. And tried to gain a little bit of insight from their experiences. So, we’ll talk about that book and some of the lessons that they learn during that book as well. So, stay tuned for that.
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So, I’m now deep in production for my crime, thriller, feature film, “The Pinch.” We are shooting July 9th through July 29th. I’m pre-recording a bunch of Podcast episodes in late June. So I’ll be able to keep publishing the Podcast through July while I’m out shooting that film. I’m going to try and put out a page through some of the social media channels. So, please follow me on Twitter, and that’s – twitter.com/ashleymeyers or like SYS on Facebook, that’s – www.facebook.com/sellingyourscreenplay. Or subscribe to our YouTube Channel, which is www.youtube/sellingyourscreenplay. And I just set-up and new InstaGram account, which is – www.instagram.com/ashleyscottmeyers. I have someone who will be shooting some behind the scenes footage. So, I will try and get that posted to YouTube and Facebook as we are shooting. And I will have my cell phone, and just snap some pictures. I’ll try and publish those later to Twitter and Instagram. So keep your eye out for that and wish me luck. So, I will keep new episodes coming out through July. But I won’t be able to give weekly real time updates. So, check out my various social media channels for those real time updates on the shooting of,
“The Pinch.” And once the movie is completed, and I will be back. And I will give it the full wrap up of the entire process of the shooting of the film. So, that’s what I’m working on for now, let’s get into the main segment.
Ashley: Welcome Justin and Stephan, to the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Justin & Stephan: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Ashley: So, maybe to start, you can give us just a quick opening review of your background of how you got started in professional writing. And just bring us all everybody up to your current jobs?
Stephan: Yeah, sure. I got started in professional writing in the gaming industry. Kinda actually creating games and “VR” experiences back in the ‘90’s. And then I did a bunch of similar stuff on the web. And a, that involved writing as well as development. And then I worked at Pixar for almost 12 years. And while I was there I was making movies. But, you know, creating images on the screen. And so, on… But also studying screenwriting professionally. But it was all studying how to be a professional screenwriter, UCLA program, and In-House-Pixar Program. And I ended up Co-Writing and Co-Developing a few features. And development at “Light of Day.” And then I left to be the Creative Drama Director at “DirectTel Games” where I oversaw 4 seasons of Sonic Gaming, 9 episodes while I was there. 2 season breaks, 2 season ends. And then I left to come down to L.A. And do my own thing. And I currently have 1 feature that was optioned and was sound for financing right now. And a bunch of other projects. And features were triviality games. And so on, that are in development, or written and will be coming out sometime in the future.
Ashley: Perfect, now I just have a couple of questions? On IMDb, you’re listed as a “Technical Director” on a bunch of projects. What exactly is a “Technical Director?”
Stephan: Right. A Technical Director, is a catch-all term for people in FX and Animation industry who do a variety of different creating images on the screen type of tasks. That can be anything from like, senior renter wrangler, to visual effects artist, sufacer, artist, color, rigger, so on and so forth.
Ashley: Is your background for you, an artist? Are you the type who can just sit down and draw on pencil and paper? Is that like your background getting into this?
Stephan: Well, I can’t draw as well as say, an animator, or other people like that. I draw okay, I really came, I’m more of a technical artist. So, computer graphics and imagery, photography. And so, creating CG Images. Like I worked in the service, where I worked as coiffed and hair stimulation artist. I worked in composite and rendering, procedural imaging. And so, I created CG images on the screen with a big computer.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. So, maybe Justin, we can get a kind of recap on your career as well?
Justin: Okay, yeah so, I started more as a novelist and screenwriter. And through that I got into video games. I was over at the Federal Reserve actually, doing agent policy analysis. Writing, totally different, and I was like, you know what? I need a totally different, I need to stop this. I was having fun with my novels and writing screenplays and all that. And as I got into that, I just need to be a full time writer. And so I started connecting with people all over the place, LinkedIn and whatnot? Just saying, “Hey” Have some time to spare with me? Stephan is one of those people, whom I contacted through Email. Another guy here would up at, with me at Telltale later. He was one of those people over, he did some work at Pixar. And it all kinda came to fruition where, the door of opportunity opened. And I had all my work ready to go. So, gave, submitted to them some samples. And went over to “Telltale Games.” So, I worked there for two years as a writer. Under Stephan. I worked on “Game of Thrones” “Tales from the Boarderlands” “Walking Dead Shown” “Minecraft Story Mode” and had a lot of fun on that. I was the lead on one of the projects. And before I left, I recently left. Actually over pursuing another side of my passion of mine at www.military.com. Where I write articles for veterans trying to transition out. Because I did a book on, called, “Military Veterans on Creative Careers.” Which is helping military veterans who help going into screenwriting, acting, directing, stuff like that. And so right now, I’m focusing a lot on my novels. I have 13 books total out there. Including the one Stephan and I did together. And writing some screenplays. I have some stuff that I worked on with this story studio called, “Sterling and Stone.” Sean Play and those guys. And we are shipping it around right now, “Sophia’s Cross.”
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. So, I want to dig into this true video game writing for a minute. Something I know nothing about. But I know there are some listeners who are potentially interested in this? So you and Justin mentioned that you had a bunch of samples. And you submitted. What exactly did you or do you create, as the sample? Do you write script for a video game? Is that a sample? Maybe you could just walk us through sort of the, what you create, and where you submit it?
Justin: Yeah, I’ll say my side, and I’m sure Stephan has opinions as hiring director. Which is little different of course. Because, see by his preference, from what I did was only the screenwriting side. So, I basically just did some screenplays. I had a sit-com pilot. You know, 30 pages in 30 pages, and a feature. I think at the time I submitted a drama. And that’s what I had, I hadn’t really you know, pursued the idea of video game writing to heavily. It was more that I love writing screenplays. And I love video games. And that just kinda came together perfectly. But I have seen people mid-projects through twine. Which is a website where you can make this interactive story telling. And they actually just exported it out to me. I can click on it and go through the story they wrote. As I’ve seen people doing on the video game side of this. But for me it was pure screenwriting.
Ashley: Okay yeah. Stephan let’s get your take on, as someone who is hiring these people. How do you and what are you looking for with these submissions?
Stephan: So, at, “Telltale”, Telltale is particular interest in character in story, TV orderly way. So, I was looking at a screenplay and Teleplay, you know, particularly original pilot tale. But also, you know, in Teleplays, you also write a couple of episodes of your favorite shows. But I’m looking at whatever you have. That have other features of TV in order to judge their story development and character development abilities. And you know, how well their stuff write on a page. At again, at a game company it’s maybe more of what like, a mobile game may be, or a triple gaming, or a triple A type of company. They look at that type of stuff, and that would certainly be valuable. And there are actually a lot of.
Justin: Increasingly people looking to see that you’ve done some kind of interactive writing. So, creating something entwined or one of the other interactive narrative platforms is not such a bad idea. And trying to put together a game twist with a game developer where it might be an Indie game, a small game that you’re the writer on is also a good thing to do. Matt Rigger, a friend of ours, who also worked at “Telltale.” He had started and hadn’t quite finished yet. Had examples of a game he had created his own. With people that he brought in as developers. So, it can be screenplays and teleplays, it can be inactive narratives through binary or something like that, platforms. It can be a game that you’ve worked on before. So, it’s really kinda like what you got. And then a lot of studios, if they’re like what you’ve got? Then they’ll ask you to basically a test. Where they’ll give you some parameters of how to write in their style. And ask you to do that, and see how well you might adapt to what they’re doing.
Ashley: Perfect. So, Stephan, where would you find? You guys were preparing to start it, a new game? And you were hiring writers where did you typically find these scripts? Obviously Justin sounds like someone you connected with through LinkedIn. Was that typical? But where would you get these, finding writers samples?
Stephan: Well, at Telltale, they use a hiring website where people would submit samples through that. And, that’s pretty common in the gaming industry that writer jobs when they are hiring new writers, it’ll get posted as regular jobs. And it’ll be a submission, just like they’ll do a portfolio submission for an artist. So, it’ll ask you to submit, it’ll say, “Okay, we want three end page samples. Or send us a scene true.” Or whatever it may be? They will tell you in the job posting what they are going to read and what they are looking for. And that’s very common in the gaming industry. For writer jobs to be posted, also for it to be a staff job. Like, you’ll be at the studio and you’ll just be moved from project to project.
Ashley: Okay. Exactly what website are these types of ads posted on? Like, namby.com?
Stephan: A, yeah. Let me think? The game industry, there’s a lot of stuff that gets posted on a website called, “Dice.” And there’s.
Ashley: Which is – www.dice.com?
Stephan: Yeah. And also going to the websites of the game companies that you’re interested in. And looking to see what jobs they have posted? And that’s basically how Telltale did have it up on their website. And it would go to a job, like an employment handling service website. That you would then you would work through the submission process there. And that’s pretty common. That the companies would post on their website, maybe a notice to www.dice.com. They might Email something out? To International Game Planners Association. And that’s pretty much it. So, you kinda need to keep an eye on the websites of the companies you might be interested in working for.
Justin: Yeah, that’s that, I’ve seen a lot of postings going through, “Glass Door” “Indeed” what is it? You guys that are doing “South Park?” You know, he was off today? He had some postings on there. Activision has something for L.A. Free. Writing Assistant for the
Writers Room on the next “Call of Duty.” That’s posted on – www.glassdoor.com. So, you can find a lot of these through “Glass Door.”
Ashley: Okay. That’s a good tip. Now Stephan, you mentioned that one other thing that people might want to look into doing is? Finding some Indie gaming companies and writing something potentially, I guess for free for these companies that are kind of real “Boot straps start-ups.” How would you go about finding some of these Indie gamers that are starting, you know, at the very bottom themselves, and building a company from scratch?
Stephan: Going to events. Straining online for ones. It’s basically personal networking. So, at that very low level of like, let’s just get it together and it’s as much of about how well those people like and trust you to deliver. As, how great a writer you are. So, it’s about building a personal treaty and being someone that they like you. They want to spend time interacting with you on the long road to putting together a game with the shoe string budget with boot strapping it ourselves. And they believe that you’re going to do the work. So, it’s really going to events. Whether it’s GDC, or local meet-ups. Or some combination of big industry events and local events. And meeting people, telling them who you are. And what you’re trying to do. What you’re doing now to be a writer, and get to know them. And they will have ideas, and you’ll have ideas. And hopefully you will find the people who click. Because that kind of writing generally does not come from like a job, a call, or anything along those lines, but, rather who you know.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, sure.
Stephan: I was just going to add.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, go ahead.
Stephan: I was just going to add, you know, on like “Speedwrite” insights like ISA, and Info List? You guys come out with that hopefully? Yeah, but I’ve seen a few games come through that with these like Indie game places. Like people getting together to like start something. So, take it for what it’s worth? Better to go the other routes where you can meet people in person. But there are some of these that come across.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect.
Stephan: Do you have, things to keep in mind in game writing is that you have. Games are a very developer driven industry. And even more so than in film making. The writer is pretty incidental. And so,
Stephan: Being a known quantity, and knowing someone who they see as an important member of the team. And who they want to hang out with and bounce ideas off of. You know, if you’re a writer, but you’re, they can hang out with you. And bounce game play and art ideas off of you. And they like how you get involved in that conversation. It makes you more a part of that development team.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So let’s move in and talk about your Podcast for a little bit. You guys run the “Creative Writing Career Podcast.” Maybe you can just kind of tell us what it’s all about. Just give us your log-line for the Podcast.
Justin: Sure, I take that. Basically, we are targeting writers from all genres. Everything that I always promote, like this year I went to the “Austin Film Festival” and was the speaker. The big thing I was promoting there was? You should be ready for anything, for any door to open. So you want your craft, skills and networking and all that to be at the level where, if you’re going to break in to video game writing or novel writing, or screenwriting, that you’re ready for that. Or and if you start one of them, that’s fine too. Or listen to the Podcast. We want to be there for all those people. So, we’re giving advice on novel writing, on video game writing, on screenwriting. We’re having some awesome guests, such as – Bob Goodman, and writers of, what was it? “Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.” Neil Lando. You know, some awesome guests that come on the show that talk about approaches.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. And if someone was just going to listen to you like, one or two episodes of your Podcast. Are there a couple of episodes that you would want to highlight for them?
Justin: Whatta think Stephan?
Stephan: Yeah, I mean, I would say that the best ones for someone who’s just going to listen to a couple of them. Would be the ones about breaking in. The ones that are specifically about how to, how to go about getting started and approaching your career that we did early on.
Justin: Yeah, the one that has gotten the most plays is called,
“The Realities of Writing Careers.” There are a few audio snafoos in there. But overall it’s gotten the most plays and the most positive feedback. So, that one’s cool with it. We have also done some specifically where it’s just the three Co-Hosts talking about like the reality of games and what makes a good story game ends. And the same thing with, novels, game plays an how you can, whether it gets to be Hollywood or not? That kinda stuff, so I’ve had a few of those.
Ashley: Okay. And this, “Realities of Writing Careers” is that like an episode number? How can people find that? I’ll link to it in the show notes. But if they are just scrolling through your list of episodes? How would they find that?
Stephan: Yeah, it’s probably like episode 4-5? I can find out while we’re talking.
Ashley: Oh, perfect, perfect.
Stephan: Ask, probably one of those.
Ashley: Yeah, I’ll link it in the show notes, but probably one of those. Just so people have some idea if they just go to your site. So, let’s talk about the book that you guys, I guess the book is kind of in conjunction with the Podcast, “Creative Writing Career 2.” Maybe you could pitch your book an kinda tell us what that’s all about?
Justin: Yeah. You want to go with that one Stephan?
Stephan: Sure. It’s a book of advice about how to have a writing career. There’s some stuff that Justin and I wrote about different aspects of writing as a career. There’s a section that I’m particularly happy about. About notes, which is something that writers have to deal with an awful lot. And has no idea how to do it? It’s actually a very few books out there that will tell you anything about that. But it also includes a whole bunch about interviews about breaking in and staying in. With a wide variety of pretty cool writers. We’ve got, John August, Walden screenwriter, we’ve got Richard Cadry, The New York Times Best Selling Novelist. We’ve got Michael Useland, The Executive Producer of all of the live action “Batman” films. We’ve got a really good selection of different writers of screenwriters, video game writers, novelist, Kevin Tomlinson, our Co-Host on “Creative Writing Career Podcast.” As one of the people we interviewed for the book. And so, it’s got a lot of advice that doesn’t just come from out of our own perspective. But, we also went out to a bunch of our friends and got information and advice about how did they have a career. And how that might apply to the readers.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And I want to, I wonder if there is some lessons you guys have learned in a specific kind of way, lessons that you can impart to people?
Justin: For sure, and one of our, stuff that you can do, that you talk about on your show and stuff. That we talk about on our show all the time. But, some of them we talked about, we had some writers on there who do write cross media. And they’ve kind of said things we’ve talked about. Where you have to make sure you’re perfecting your craft, first and foremost. And involved in networking, because a lot of these jobs in our industry come from who you know. And we’ve talked about the different ways they can do that. Such as writers conferences, or game developers conference here in San Francisco. And those types of platforms. But pretty well, Stephan, anything that comes to the top of your head?
Stephan: Sure, I mean, I would say that the best advice that I can give to the writers, is? One, write, and write a lot. Two, don’t give up, because 100% of the writers who give up never made it. And three, be easy to work with. Be someone that people want to spend time with and working with. In Hollywood, there’s a term called,
“Difficult to work with.” Which is a usual word for, “I never want to work with this person. Or be in a room with them ever again.” And you don’t want to be that guy.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. That sounds like good advice for sure. And I don’t think people fully understand it? It’s not just the writing all, often times it is all of these other things. I wonder if you guys can just touch? And this is sort of maybe a broad question? What is it about writing that attracts people to it? And I honestly don’t know for myself what it is? I mean there’s definitely something about it? And in my follow-up, question is sort of near the fantasy of writing, verses, the reality of the job. But, what is it from all the other different types of people that you’ve met. In all different types of writing professions? Would it, is it that sort of attraction that bring people to it?
Justin: Yeah. My sort of interpretation of what I’ve talked to people about. Is my own writing, is to gain an understanding of characters. I mean, like you look at other people around you in the world. And there are just so many people, you just can’t fathom? How they got to where they are? Who they are, you know, just so different, some of them just so emotionally touching. And when you get into writing, like you get to explore these different avenues, you get to take these people. Put them in different situations and see how they will react? And that’s what I’ve seen happen.
Stephan: For a lot of people it’s also being able to create: Worlds, characters, events, stories. That show the world either, how they wish it was? Or as a illustrative warranting of how they hope that it does not become. And I think that’s a great appeal of writing for a lot of writers. Is to be the person who got to create the ideas and characters, and worlds, and scenarios that conjure up these ideas in other people’s heads. Whether it’s a novelist doing that directly in their reader’s head. Or a screenwriter, who is inspiring a director and cinematographer go on to create a, you know, visual and audio experience for the audience that interprets that. It’s being the person that who inspired that whole process in the first place.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And this in all the right writers and all the different types of writing that you guys have sort of explored, interviewed people. Are there any of those, like real writing jobs where so many, or maybe the fantasy of that job meets the reality. Because I, in screenwriting I really don’t even think it comes close. I think most people sort of the fantasy of being a professional screenwriter. It is vastly different to what actual professional screenwriters do. And what their lives are really like. But are there any other, any other writing jobs where the fantasy meets the reality.
Stephan: A yeah, hum, jobs inspire reality of getting paid. So, now, if it’s easy reliable than that is specifically to eliminate the fantasy from reality from your life. I think that you know, novelist probably have it the closest. In that they get to play the lottery where they’re in control of their everything. And there is not guarantee that anything is going to become of it? And screenwriting and game writers are probably the furthest from it. Which is those jobs are essentially the process of turning notes into a final deadline.
Justin: Yeah, let me get on that. Because we have interviews with Will White on the Podcast and in the first history book. And Sean Platt and Peter Rencrer 2. And by the way, the audiobook just came out for that. So, I don’t know if we mentioned that? But, it’s pretty exciting to get some of your listeners. Let’s say that the first ten people that Email me, free copies of that. But, hitting on the novel side, both of those people I feel like they are living the dream. They both feel, they both communicate, they both live in the dream, basically. The first guy, Will White he wanted, he’s in a program, wrote a novel. It became a fantasy trilogy. And he graduated, and hasn’t had to work since. And it’s just been awesome. He’s writing more fantasy trilogies. And doing quite well for himself. Jealous very jealous.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Justin: And the other guy, he started a story studio with two other guys. And they basically just cranked out books like, none stop. For a while they were doing a book a week, which is kinda crazy. Now they’ve slowed down to a more focus on the craft, and making really good stories. But they are also living it a dream of just writing novels all day long and having fun with it.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Well that’s great, let’s just talk about just your book. Just to wrap things up. How can people find your book? And then you can also mention your Email address, if people want to Email you? You can potentially get a free audio copy.
Justin: Yeah sure. It’s on the Podcast website, or just the website. It’s – www.creativewritingcareer.com we have links to the books on there, courses as well. It’s on Amazon.com, IBooks.com, Barnes&Noblenook.com, it’s on cobo.com, It’s on all these platforms, That’s great, me I’m, the book is on ITunesaudible, and Amazon. And so, that’s easy enough. And then, like I said, if you want to Email me? Let’s go with – [email protected], so it’s just – [email protected]. And like I said, I will be happy to give the first ten people free copy of that. So,
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. And I will round this stuff up and put it in the show notes. So, are you guys on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe you could just mention your Twitter handle and we’ll list anything you feel comfortable sharing. So people can find you and just follow along with what you are doing.
Stephan: A sure, Justin you go first.
Justin: Alright, justinmsloan, as in Justin Michael Sloan on Twitter. And on Facebook it is the same as the other Email, which is justinsloanauthor. At the end of that part.
Stephan: And I am on Twitter. And I am @Stephanbugaj – S-t-e-p-h-a-n B-u-g-a-j and on Facebook, search for my name, I actually have no idea how you search that?
Ashley: Yeah, okay, okay.
Stephan: Excuse me when I say I do it. And real quick too. If they sign up for the newsletter, they can get a free, it’s called, “The Starter Guide” “Career for Starter Guide.” We have a little bit of book one in there, a little bit of book 2, and a little bit of Kevin’s book. For our Co-Host, called, “The 30 Day Author.” So you can get that started out. I host a couple of those interviews too. Well, so those are free too.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. Well guys, thank you very much for coming on the show and talking with me I really appreciate it. Lots of good information, and I think there will be something for screenwriters that are interested in gaining. So I really appreciate it.
Justin: Yeah, thank you. That was great.
Ashley: Thanks guys talk to ya later.
Justin: Hey cool, cheers.
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That’s the show, thank you for listening.