This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 368: With Writer-Producer Bob McCullough.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #368 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing writer Bob McCullough. He has written and even created a number of television shows. So we dig into all of that, how he got his start in his career and progressed through it. He now runs the Wiki Screenplay Contest, which is a monthly screenwriting competition. We talk through some of his career highlights, how he broke into the business and what he is up to now. So stay tuned for that interview. SYS’s Six-Figure Screenplay contest is open for submissions, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest.
The early bird deadline runs through March 31st, after that, it does go up by $10. So if your script is ready, definitely submit early. This year, we have a short film script category, 30 pages or less. So if you have a low budget short script, by all means submit that as well. I’ve got a number of industry judges slash producers who are looking for short scripts. So hopefully we can find a home for some of those. The idea for this contest was simple, find the best low budget scripts and present them to the industry. We’re looking for the best low budget screenplays. I’m defining low budget as less than $1,000,000. In other words, six figures or less. For shorts, I would say four figures or less, so well less than $10,000 to produce the short.
Every submission will be read by at least two professional readers who will do a short assessment, which you can actually purchase if you’d like to see what they thought. I’ve lined up about 50 industry judges to read the scripts that move into the later rounds, we’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes to the winners. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, or perhaps enter, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me a comment on YouTube or re-tweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they are very much appreciated.
Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can 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/podcast, and then look for Episode Number #368. 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 logline 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 your screenplay, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing screenwriter, Bob McCullough. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Bob to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Bob: Ashley, I feel flattered to be invited.
Ashley: Well, thank you for coming on. So 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?
Bob: Oh gosh! I was… fairly interesting background, I think. Born and raised in Los Angeles area, went to a very unique high school, Beverly Hills High School, where a large number of my classmates were the children of studio network executives, movie stars, things like that. So I grew up in kind of a golden environment if you will. But it led me to the point where as an adult, I’m really not impressed by celebrities very much because I grew up with a lot of them. And then I began to, I went to USC thinking I’d become a dentist and I had a terrible experience with organic chemistry. At that time the Vietnam War was raging and you had to keep your GPA up to avoid the draft.
So I started taking the easy classes like Shakespeare and poetry and English composition. I found that I was a pretty good writer and just had a natural instinct for it. At USC, I also took some film classes. This is long before they had the major reputation they have now. I discovered that editing was very much like writing and while I was in college, I began to as kind of part-time work, made myself into a semi-professional quiz show contestant. At that time quiz shows were the big thing on TV, daytime television. I was on a whole bunch of quiz shows. One day I was on The Dating Game and I’m sitting on the soundstage and kind of an exciting environment, you know, lots of cameras and technology and people, and Jim Lange the host of the show. It’s all very show busy.
And I started asking questions because I realized I’m never gonna be a dentist. I say, so I’m pointing to people on the set. “What does that guy do?” “Well, he’s the cameraman?” “What kind of money does a cameraman make?” “Well, he makes around 600 a week.” “Whoa!” In those days that was a lot of money. And I kinda worked my way through the crew asking all these questions. I finally point to the guy sitting in a chair across the set, kind of in the shadows wearing a cashmere v-neck sweater, jeans and tennis shoes. I said, “Well, what does that guy do? He’s not doing anything.” “Well, that’s the producer.” I said, “Really? What’s he make?” “About 60,000 a week.” I said, “That’s what I need to be.” And kind of started directing myself in that vein.
I went to graduate school at University of Texas in film and television, and while there wrote my thesis which was published actually called Screenplay: Theory and Practice. That was basically a research piece based on all the existing material that was out there about screenwriting. Then upon returning to Los Angeles, I had… while I was at grad school, I’d been invited to a very highfalutin seminar up at Stanford where I met all the studio network executives, president of NBC, people like that. And I made sure to collect phone numbers. When I came back to LA after school, I started making some calls and I wound up at NBC working as a page, as an usher, basically ushering old ladies into Let’s Make a Deal. You know, it was really, really terrible.
Ashley: Back on the game shows, yeah.
Bob: Exactly, exactly.
Ashley: You were making the 60,000 a week.
Bob: No, no, I was making 125 a week, and I’m wearing a coat and tie standing in the 104 degree temperatures of Burbank all summer. At some point in time, I discovered there was a guy at Paramount Studios who would hire one of the pages, one page per year out of a staff of 20 as a kind of a gopher on the Paramount lot. I said, “That’s sounds like a fun job.” I found out who the guy was. And six months before the hiring period began, I made myself really obnoxious and I kinda broke down the studio gates. I kind of faked my way in. I had an envelope with this guy’s name on it. I pulled up to the studio gates, I said, “I have a delivery for here for Mr. Krane.” And they pointed me to where his office was.
I walked into this guy’s office and I sat down and I waited for him to walk by. I sat there for probably six hours before he even looked at me. He finally said, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” I said, “Well, I’m here for the job.” He said, “Well, the job’s not for six more months, come back then.” I said, “Well, can I just have five minutes?” Long story short, I talked my way into the job. He called me the next day and I had the gig on Mission Impossible and Mannix, which were big hits series at the time. And I discovered the world of movie making from the real inside. This was no longer academics. This was show up at five o’clock in the morning and be prepared to work until nine o’clock at night. It was hardcore film school on a professional basis.
Again, I was making like 85 bucks a week, but it was a great education. While there, I also saw that writers had the best lifestyle. They were coming in at 10, they’re leaving at five. They’re going to lunch. I’m thinking, writing looks like a pretty darn good gig and I’m pretty good at it. So I began writing some scripts. Couldn’t get anybody to read anything for about a year and a half. And finally, one of the producers on Mission Impossible, a man by the name of Bruce Lansbury, whom I will always think of, he read my script and gave me extensive notes on it. That began to introduce me to the real writing process. Long story short, I went through a series of jobs in the production department, learned a lot about how to make a movie, how to make a TV show.
And while I was at Universal, I sold my very first script to Six Million Dollar Man. From that point, things just kind of evolved.
Ashley: Got you. So just to kind of a philosophical question, what is it that you think attracted you to the entertainment industry? I mean, obviously you grew up in LA so you were around it, but you know, especially hearing you talk about, okay, this guy was making $60,000 a week, I mean, some of it was financial. So some of it was not necessarily the creative lifestyle that was attracting you to it and why not go…? I think I read in your bio that you were a lawyer at one point, or, you know, was there some other things that you considered and what sort of pushed you back towards it?
Bob: Absolutely. I realized early on that it was a kind of a flaky industry, no guarantees whatsoever. I had a master’s degree and that didn’t guarantee me employment for sure. So I began to do things like I got a real estate license and then that was kind of an easy thing to do. I said, well, how hard can law school be? So I got into law school went four years at nights, got my law degree. Just as I was studying for the bars, when I sold my first script at Universal and that script paid more money than most lawyers make in a year. So I said, “Well, wait a second. This is a good option if I can maintain this.” So I worked very, very hard. I mean, I would come home at night after working at 14 hour day job and I would write until two o’clock in the morning because I knew that was my ticket in, that in television writers have all the power.
It’s not the director in television. It’s the director in feature films, but in the TV world, writers become producers and they become owners. It’s just a better gig, frankly. It’s also, I got very spoiled. I wrote my first script and they actually shot it. You know, you write your first screenplay, doesn’t ever, it may never get made. The odds are it will never get made. You need to write 24 screenplays before one gets bought, produced, developed, and shot. In television I got very spoiled. I’ve done over I think almost 300 shows and everything I ever wrote got shot, which that turns into kind of like not an ego trip. But if you think about it this way, more people have seen one episode of my BJ and the Bear episodes than they’ve ever seen anything by Shakespeare.
That’s crazy, but it’s true just in sheer numbers of people. So you can have an influence and you can have a lot of creative fulfillment in television. That was my experience, at least. And it kinda drove me to become very, very prolific. I worked my butt off, but it was great fun, frankly. I realized at the time I was in a privileged position and I didn’t wanna let go of it until I aged out basically. But I was probably at when I did retire, I was probably the oldest working television writer-producer of my generation.
Ashley: I got you. Now you made a comment just earlier, you got onto the Paramount lot, you came up with this plan to have this envelope and get on there, and you said you were as obnoxious as possible. You also made the point you were, I think you were said you were on Mission Impossible and you got this spec script to one of the producers. And this is always, I think this is always something I think people do wrong is, how do you actually manage those situations where you are aggressive and a advocate for yourself, but you’re not actually obnoxious and annoying. Like where is that balance? And especially if you’re the PA on Mission Impossible, I’m sure they don’t want every PA throwing them a spec script. They want you to get the coffee in this. So how do you sort of navigate those relationships?
Bob: Well, you’d be the very best go-get-coffee guy they’ve ever seen, right? You show up an hour early before everybody else and you stay until everybody else goes home. If they’re having a night shoot, you’re there on the set. You devote yourself to being around. When you’re around, you make relationships and friendships evolve. And they come to understand a little bit about what you’re really after. I didn’t walk around saying, “Hey, I’m gonna be a TV writer.” I said, “This is really interesting. Can you tell me how you do these things?” People are always willing to share knowledge, particularly with, when you’re younger. When I say obnoxious, I wasn’t obnoxious. The real word is persistent.
I made it apparent that I wasn’t going anywhere and that I was preparing myself for better things While doing that, whatever job they gave me. I was a location manager for five or six years. I was the best location manager in town. People wanted to work with me. I got to read every script in town. I worked with every major television director in town. So part of it is, I think you also have to have enough, an understanding and awareness, a little bit of an emotional intelligence with people. You don’t wanna be in the way, but you wanna be there and ready to help. Having that kind of a persona develops trust. And it’s really about trust and establishing those relationships is key.
I think that’s what a lot of people forget. There are a lot of fabulous writers out there, but they don’t have any relationships. They haven’t done the networking. They haven’t realized they’re gonna have to take some horrible job, go get the producer’s car washed every day, pick his girlfriend up at the airport, get the sheets on his bed changed, whatever it is, but you wanna be around. You wanna be a trusted kind of compadre to people. And then they realize, well, if he writes a script, it’s got to be good. He knows what’s going on, right? He knows what we want. So that’s kind of how I worked it. The episode at Paramount was very different because I was very young. I was 23, fresh-faced guy, show up at the studio gates.
Those are the days before crime on the streets wasn’t so rampant and you could get into the studio if you had a delivery. Today, they’re going to screen you up one side and down the other, and you’re not gonna be able to get past the gates, but there are other ways to do it. You know, digital communications has opened up the world of contact with people. I mean, my wife, Suzanne and I have, we have own podcast called Where Hollywood Hides and we get to some major celebrities and people in the industry simply by reaching out and not being too obnoxious, but saying, “Hey, here’s something you can do, and we’re here for you.” That’s all. So it’s a question of establishing trust with people, I think is really the key.
Ashley: Yeah, I agree. So it sounds like you did a lot of like physical production. You were a location manager, a PA. I’m curious, like I did extra work when I first rolled into LA and I thought that was a good, quick, easy way to get on set and actually see a set. I’m from the East coast, I’d never even really been on a set. But what do you recommend for people as a first job? These production jobs, exactly what you’re saying, they’re grueling hours. And I found when I got to LA I had some of these production jobs, but I never felt like writing. They were so grueling. First off, I wasn’t the best coffee maker and that was maybe one problem, but the other problem was I would work 12, 14 hours and I didn’t feel like going home and writing spec scripts, you know?
And so there was… I wasn’t able to find that balance, but what do you recommend for people that are young, they’re out of college, they’re gonna get that entry-level job? What do you think it is? Could it be something that’s outside of the entertainment industry? Could it be…? I always felt like I… Like rethinking my own journey, I always thought maybe going into distribution. Like I should have found a PA job for a distribution company. Because I feel like that’s where you could learn a lot about why movies are getting made and why they’re actually making money. And that could really enhance you as things… but I totally get the production thing too. Understanding production will definitely help you as a writer, but what is your recommendation now after your career?
Bob: Well, I’m not sure distribution… I mean, I’m still trying to figure out what distribution is. So, and it’s really, that pulls you away from the set. It pulls you away from the talent. You’re kind of the ultimate end of a production, if you will. I believe that any job that pays is a good job. I never worked for free. Although I had a lot of opportunity to work on major motion pictures as a free PA as an intern. I just valued myself to the point where if I’m an intern and you want me around, I’m worth, you got to pay me something, a minimum wage. I got to buy my gas for God’s sake. So I passed a lot of big-time movie jobs because I wouldn’t work for free. My recommendation would be, I don’t care what the job is.
If you can get close to directors, producers, writers, actors, that’s the job you want. A job in an office where you never go to the set, where you never have contact with the creative forces of a show or a production, that to me is kind of an executive track. I thought I might go that way when I got my law degree, because that was kind of a prerequisite in my mind, at least, I wanted to be a network vice president or something. Well, thank God I didn’t do that. And I got, I guess, lucky, but I was prepared. Remember I’d been writing scripts nobody was reading, and I finally wrote one that they, that I got a producer to read and he said, “This is pretty good. What do you want?” I said, “Well, I want into the Writers Guild and I wanna get paid for this, and I want you to shoot it.” He said, “Oh, okay. We can do that.”
And it was as simple as that, but I had written, I don’t know, two dozen movie scripts and TV scripts and pilot ideas and everything else. Because after my 14 hour day I understood I was tired, but there was only one way out of the trap of just having a job and that was to be hyper productive, to exceed expectations and to always appear to be ready to contribute. So that’s kinda my take on that. Your track, thinking about getting into distribution that really pulls you away from the creative end. And I was just bounded determined not to wear a neck tie. I was kind of a rebel in that way. I just knew I didn’t wanna put on a suit and tie every day. Call it arrogance, call it… I had a lot of other options.
I could have become a cop, any number of things, right? I just, I kind of wanted it on my own terms and it worked out pretty well. I don’t think I’ve worn a neck tie except for funerals twice in the last 30 years. I’m just a California guy and much more of a beach personality than an office personality that way.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay. So what was this first spec that you sold? Did you say it was a Mission Impossible, you were a PA on Mission Impossible and you sold a Mission Impossible spec?
Bob: Well, I had been a PA on Mission Impossible for a long time. I wrote the script, I got great notes from Bruce Lansbury and then I got hired at Universal as a location manager. While at Universal, I’m doing Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman. I became very familiar with those two shows and exactly what the structure of those hours was, and I had… because I was a location manager, I’m dealing with the writers who were… I’m taking them to locations, so they can write a scene to a location as well as directors. I was hanging out on the set a lot talking to Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner and kind of getting their vibe on what their character was about. My trick was I took, I don’t know, between four and six directors out one day in a big minivan scouting locations to determine what they could shoot.
While doing that, I’m taking them to all my secret places throughout LA County. I realized what’s gonna happen, they’re gonna talk to writers, and the writers are gonna write treatments and treatments are gonna be pitched to the producer. So I just went home that night and I wrote 17 quick pitches, one pages, two paragraphs. Here’s the story. Here’s what Steve Austin does in this episode and here’s what Jamie Summers does in this episode. The next morning I was taking more guys out on location scouts, I dropped all 17 pages on the producer’s desk at about 6:30 in the morning before he came in. When I came back that afternoon at five o’clock, the producer called me and he said, “What’s this about? Why are you leaving this stuff on my desk?”
I said, “Because I wanna write one.” He said, “Okay, which one of these do you wanna write?” I plucked one out of the pile. It was, In This Corner: Jamie Summers, she becomes a female wrestler. He said, “Okay that sounds like fun. Let’s see if you can write it.” Well, I came back literally two days later with the script. I said, “Here’s my shot at it.” Next thing I know it was in production. So that was kind of my tactic. I leveraged what I knew and what I knew the pace of production was. And in television, they’re always late with scripts. Nobody can deliver a script on time for some incredible reason. So they’re always behind the gun. I just proved that I was the guy that can deliver the script early.
That I was gonna go home and I’m not going to sleep. I’m gonna deliver the script tomorrow morning. So I kind of developed a reputation as that kind of a writer which led me to become a show runner and all kinds of wonderful opportunities followed.
Ashley: Got you. So then, okay. So then once you had that produced script, were you then able to get an agent and did that start to get you more stuff, or did you continue to beat the bush with your own networking and your own contacts?
Bob: I did all of it. I did all… You can’t just do one thing. I did all of it. I continued to beat the bush. I was talking to other people on other shows. Meanwhile, I wrote a hundred letters to agents throughout Hollywood. At that time, you could get a mailing list from the writers. I think you probably still can. I sent out a hundred letters and I said, “Hey, I just have a script deal at Universal blah, blah, blah, blah, and that’s in production and I’ve got a great movie idea, and I’ve got a spec script I’d love you to see.” Out of the hundred, and this is the truth, three people responded. That’s a pretty low percentage.
Ashley: That’s… it’s something, man. You’re in there.
Bob: But this is, you know, this is like old school. I’m typing these letters. This is not word processing. And I’m putting a stamp on an envelope. I did a hundred envelopes, a hundred stamps, three people responded. One of the agents was very flattering and all excited about me. I went with that agent. It was the worst possible agent I could have gone with, but what did I know, right? I was with that agent who got me no work for a good year. Meanwhile, I’m selling myself on the lot trying to write other scripts and other material. Then I got turned on to a guy who was the classic Hollywood agent, incredibly bright and had my kind of energy, a guy named Barry Perelman, who is still in the business.
Barry Perelman took me to Universal and sold me as a staff writer on BJ and the Bear. The interesting thing is, and I’ve discussed this in our podcast, when I returned to the lot as a writer on staff, nobody recognized me from having been in production, it was weird. It was like, once you’re above the line, the people below the line suddenly don’t even know who you are. They hold you in some kind of reverence, which is insane. So that’s how that happened. Once I was on BJ and it was a hit show and I did a whole bunch of stuff for Glen Larson and Universal and just things kind of propelled. Your career takes on a life of its own. You cannot pick the path, that path picks you.
The trick is in my opinion, be high energy, be available, be willing to talk to anybody and don’t ever turn anything down.
Ashley: Yeah, sound advice for sure. So let’s talk about one of the shows you were the creators on, with Soldier of Fortune that was in the late ‘90s. I’m just curious, just to kinda use it as a template for creating a show and being a show runner. How did that project come about? I mean, obviously you had been in the business for years, you had numerous credits, but just talk us through that. And eventually I’m gonna get to how other people can potentially be show runners or create their own shows, but how did this come about for you?
Bob: Well, first of all, I’m very impressed by the research you’ve obviously done. I’d forgotten about Soldier of Fortune frankly.
Ashley: It’s all right. Dennis Rodman, I noticed was in it.
Bob: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. That was an experience. I actually went to a Bulls game with him. It was fun. It was like a rock concert. It was fabulous.
Ashley: I’m sure.
Bob: Long story short. I had some credits I had partnered with another writer at that time because I was getting a little bit older. So like a guy who had been writing since he was… he was actually the youngest member of the Writers Guild back in the ‘80s. He and I had stayed in contact and in touch. His dad had been very helpful in my career over the years and he and I were approached by Jerry Bruckheimer who had the rights to Soldier of Fortune, which was a magazine at the time. They had no idea what the show was, but they had a script written by a guy named Dan Gordon, I think. And it didn’t make a lot of sense. It hadn’t been very well researched. It was basically, you know, bang, bang, shoot ’em up kind of a thing.
My partner and I were much more interested in doing something serious that really displayed the life and the sacrifices that people who are mercenary soldiers have to give in order to accomplish their tasks. So we were given the pilot script and we basically read it, set it aside, came up with our own cast of characters. In many ways it’s The Dirty Dozen, it’s The Professionals, it’s pulling together a team, you know, it’s The Magnificent Seven. We took that formula, which works so well and we brought together a coherent team of characters and just began working on their biographies. Each character had his own backstory, which you never saw, but we had to write it ourselves.
Then we wrote the Bible and the Bible was half the size of a phone book, but detailed every single episode for the first season and every single story arc. We took a lot of stuff right out of the headlines. We did a story about the world’s best sniper. At that time his name was Carlos Hathcock. He had made a kill from like a mile and a half away, which was remarkable at that time. So it was very much like American Sniper, but it was a TV episode, very well-produced. Jerry Bruckheimer is not a guy to come up short in terms of production. And most interestingly he was very much interested in developing directors for his feature film slate. So we were introduced to a series of commercial directors, guys who shot Ford truck commercials, who had great visual senses.
And we basically taught them how to direct for television on a television schedule and deal with actors and things like that. That was a lot of fun, frankly. That show was terrific, we met some terrific actors, still have some good relationships with those folks.
Ashley: And I’m curious, and I just like to give people sort of a sense of the scope. So you’re in this position, Bruckheimer brings this project to you, you write the spec, you write the show Bible and stuff, and then the show goes into production. Just again, in terms of the scope, how many of these types of projects did you work on and you got right up to that finish line, but then they didn’t actually make it into production for whatever reason. I just, because it always feels like we spend so much time in this business, on the successes, but I think sometimes it’s lost that in order to get to that success , there’s quite a bit of, and I hate to just call them failures, but there’s quite a bit of things that never…
You know, there’s quite a few things that don’t make it through to the finish line, but they’re part of that learning curve and they’re just part of the process of getting a number of irons in the fire.
Bob: Sure. Well, let’s call them what they are. They are failures, okay? If you’re not willing to fail, you shouldn’t be in the game because you’re gonna fail 80 percent of the time. I’ve been very, very fortunate only to have failed a few times, but man, they were massive failures. Two come to mind. One, was a pilot I sold to ABC called Tag Team starring Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura before he became governor, a really great wrestler, wonderful guy, Rowdy Roddy Piper. I had been to… at the time, my son was three or four years old and we went to see a WWF event at the sports arena. And he was like, his eyes were like saucers and we came home and he said, “Dad, what if wrestlers were cops?” I said, that’s a good idea.
The next day I’m at ABC because I had some entree through my agents. I said, “Here’s pitch, two wrestlers become cops.” That was the total pitch. I had nothing on paper. They said, “Great, when can you have that?” Well, we developed it. We did some casting. We found Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura. We did some screen tests with them. It was a little hard to convince the network to go with a real wrestlers because they wanted actors. You know, we interviewed every actor over six feet tall, we interviewed him and none of them frankly looked like wrestlers or acted like them. But these two guys were fabulous. So I write the pilot script, we shoot the pilot.
For its time, it was very funny. There was a lot of action in it. It’s on YouTube. I’m sure you can see the pilot, the Tag Team pilot. It was kind of a standard story about protecting an eyewitness. The network says, “Wow, we like the pilot. We’re gonna order 22 episodes.” I’m thinking I’m cashing a cheque, 22 episodes, I’m the creator, executive producer. This is gonna be fabulous in the interim. So we get the 22 scripts going, I hire a whole bunch of writers. They write terrific stuff. I do all the rewriting, the script’s basically in a big package, everything is ready to go at that time. And in the interim, you have to keep working. You have to pay your rent, right? I’d taken another job on a show called The New Zorro and I was in Spain shooting that and I get a phone call from my agents and I’m thinking, they’re gonna congratulate me, the show just started shooting today.
The Tag Team series. Once it’s series starts to shoot, there’s a whole series of payments that kind of fall into place because you get all these bonuses. The guy calls me in Spain, he says, “I have great… I have news for you about Tag Team.” I’m thinking, “Wonderful.” The news is they canceled the show. They canceled the show six hours before the first crew call.
Ashley: Oh my Gosh!
Bob: They had dressing room trucks, wardrobe trucks full of wardrobe. They had the catering guy on his way to the location. The actors are literally in makeup and there was a phone conversation between Bob Iger, who was the head of ABC at the time and a guy named Jeffrey Katzenberg, whom I’m sure you’ve heard of. He was the television development executive at Disney at the time. It was a Disney show, and those two guys apparently didn’t get along. And there was a big beef about budget and they hung up the phone on each other, and that was the end of the show. I was devastated obviously from a creative standpoint because I had all these writers working and these guys are all looking to get their production bonuses and things like that.
But there were 200 other people ready to go to work that morning and suddenly they’re all fired. I thought that was the cruelest thing that ever happened. It was my biggest failure. I was not even involved in that failure. It was between two executives, but from a creative standpoint, my other quote, “big failure” was, I was working for Aaron Spelling Productions. Aaron came to me with a script that he couldn’t really shoot. It wasn’t a very good script. It was called Dark Mansions and it was kind of, it was nighttime soap opera, haunted house kind of a thing. Big stars, Michael York, Linda Purl, Paul Shenar, gosh Olivia de Havilland. I mean, big stars were in this thing. That was Aaron Spelling’s way of casting.
We shot the show. Jerry London was the director, fabulous director, good friend. The show was terrific. It was a great two hour movie. We did an audience test screening at a place called ASI on Sunset Boulevard, where they bring in audiences who pay nothing to get in. They hook them up to a little finger monitors and dials and things like that. Basically, it’s like a, it’s a survey. Real-time survey. As you’re watching the movie, tell us how you feel about these things. Well, as soon as the titles came on, the score was so over the top, the audience started to laugh and that was the end of that show. I mean, you’re doing a spooky drama, you know, ghost story and people are laughing. That’s not good.
So Aaron Spelling actually left the screening room five minutes later. He didn’t wanna be around to see what happens. So I was left holding the bag and the reviews on it in Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter were just terrible enough to sink anybody’s career. I was lucky to survive that, but so things like that… but again, a lot of these things are out of your control. You could write the best script possible. You could write the Green Book as a spec script, which is a fabulous script and it’s miscast or the release data screwed up or COVID-19 happens. The movie never gets released, that’s a failure. Your name goes nowhere. Your career is at a standstill. So there are lots of basically unpredictable, imponderable, unpreventable things that are going to happen.
Stuff happens completely out of your control. You have to be willing to roll with that stuff. You have to realize it’s like any relationship. You think you’re in control, you’re not really in control. The other people are. So you have to, there’s a great deal of resiliency that’s required, I believe. And you have to kind of enjoy the process. The process of coming up with material and testing it, seeing what people, how they react, how things work. Sometimes you think it’s great and you’ll let somebody read your script and they’ll say, “Yeah, it’s great, except I don’t believe any of it.” “Oh, gee. I forgot that part,” right? “I forgot the credibility part.” But, so that kind of happens. With which leads me to one of the things that I’m doing now.
About four or five years ago, a partner and I got together, he was sending out his material to screenplay contests and I didn’t even know what a screenplay contest was. And he’s telling me that, “Well, you send a hundred bucks and people read your script and they give you notes on it.” I said, “Well, that’s wonderful. Why is that happening?” was my first question, and secondly, “Who are these people that are reading your script?” He didn’t know, we did a little bit of research. Turns out that the people reading the scripts on most screenplay contests are not professionals. They have no credits, but they took a couple of classes in writing, or they’ve interned at a studio or something.
The other factor is that studios were really getting rid of their development departments because it’s expensive to have a development staff. You got to pay their welfare, you got to buy them lunch, office space, all that stuff. So they’ve kind of, what’s the word, without really meaning to, they’ve kind of let that whole development business evaporate from a studio standpoint and they now depend on screenplay contests to vet their material. They’re one of the gatekeepers now. So I was looking at the contest my buddy had entered and I realized these people, none of them have any real credits. Well, why would you let them read your script to begin with?
So we started our own and we did that by recruiting people who have massive credits in the feature and television film. And we put together a roster of judges in the, it’s the Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards. We’ve now seen 15,000 scripts and we’ve judged them very carefully. Everything gets multiple reads. While doing that, a lot of writers get very impatient. “Well, why is it taking three weeks for you to read my script? Why is it that…?” And it’s… in the first contest we ran was a year long. Why is it taking a year for me to find out if my script’s any good? I realized the real problem there, my wife was talking to me about it, Suzanne. She said, “If I’m a writer, I wanna know like within a month, if my script sounded good.”
So Suzanne got together with me and she said, “What if we did a monthly screenplay contest? And it’s really fast and a writer who submits a script anytime during the month, will get responses within that month?” So she came up with the Wiki Screenplay Contest, which I think you see behind me. We call it the world’s fastest screenplay contest. We just wrapped up the November contest and we had entries on November 30th. And those people are going to get responses within five days because we have 20 really professional, seasoned, highly educated people. We don’t call them readers. They aren’t just readers, they’re analysts, and they look at 10 very significant categories that goes into any successful screenplay.
We judge material completely independently of one another and we share opinions, and then we resolve with a very transparent test score, competition score, which most screenplay contests will never reveal. We reveal every score, every comment completely to every writer. And we’re also the lowest price contest out there. Even more uniquely, we don’t even require you to write a complete screenplay because a lot of people start a script and they have trouble finishing it, or they get stuck halfway through or they’re unmotivated, right? I mean, it’s brave to start something. The hard part’s act three, believe me, every time. So the unique selling proposition of the Wiki Screenplay Contest is you only need 10 pages because the first 10 pages are really what it’s all about.
When you hand a script to a director or an actor or a producer, and you say, “Please read my material.” If the first 10 pages don’t hook them, they’re never gonna go to page 11. I can tell you that as one who’s been handed a lot of scripts. If the script sucks by page five, I don’t read the page six, but if it’s great by page 10, I finish reading that script and that’s a very unique script. So we offer writers the opportunity to write just 10 pages or a full script, and we will give them complete analysis, complete scoring transparency, and we’ve been able to help a lot of people fashion and hone their material so that it’s really ready for prime time. And that’s… the really great satisfaction for us is the testimonials that are completely unsolicited we get from writers, thanking us for showing them where they turned left when they should’ve turned right.
It always shows up in the first 10 pages, frankly. So that’s been a lot of fun. We’ve met some terrific writers and I think our last winner, the October contest winner was in Tahiti. The prior month, we had an Australian writer. We have writers from all over the world. So it’s not just Hollywood or LA. The concept that you must be in LA to make it happen, well, not as a writer. To make a career happen I think you do need to be in LA. You got to be ready to meet people. You have to kinda get out and about, you have to get that job, or you have to be a self-starter like Ashley Scott Myers says, you’ve got to create something for yourself. Because nobody’s gonna create it for you, frankly.
There’s nobody sitting at Schwab’s soda fountain anymore, waiting to be discovered because you will collect dust, believe me.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And that’s a good segue into my final question. How can people find out and follow with what you’re doing? What is the… and I’ll round all this up for the show notes, but what is your URL for your Wiki Screenplay Contest and International, Los Angeles International Screenplay Contest?
Ashley: Perfect. And are you on Twitter or anything like, you wanna share your Twitter handle, Facebook, blog, anything like that?
Bob: Everything is @HollywoodHides for Twitter because we also have, Where Hollywood Hides, the podcast series where we interview people in the industry, and really the drive for that is to give people career guidance. How do I break in, how do I get that production job? How do I become a TV director? How do I become an actor who really works? Things like that. So Where Hollywood Hides really focuses on that. Social media we have found is kind of a time suck. It’s very expensive from a time standpoint. We’re much more interested in reading people’s scripts for the two screenplay contests than we are in communicating with them on social media, but we do have a Facebook page.
We do have Instagram, things like that. Frankly, I don’t really like to deal with it very much because it’s a big distraction, you know? I mean, there’s work to be done and it’s great to make contact, great to reach out, but anybody can reach me at [email protected] or [email protected]. I’m happy to respond via email to anybody. I do a lot of email communication with all of our writers. Lots of people just have questions about the contests, happy to answer them, deal with them. And we do a lot of follow-up with the writers too, who are, who have a second draft. They’ve worked on a script after they’ve seen our notes and they want us to take a look at it and we’re happy to do that
Because it’s really about helping the writer achieve what they’re after. I don’t think writers are necessarily after fame, but they want to be recognized and the best way to be recognized is to get paid for what you’re doing. That’s what I’m about. I’m about getting writers to the point where they’re gonna get paid for their work.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Well, Bob, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. This has been great, lots of great information and we’ll definitely circle back in a couple of months, if you wanna come back and talk about yeah, as the contests progress.
Bob: Okay, sure. Yeah, we’re having a lot of fun with it. We really are. All right, Ashley, thanks very much.
Ashley: I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre, and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of this service, you can find out about all the SYS Select successes by gonna www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also on SYS podcast Episode #222, I talk with Steve Deering who was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. These services include the newsletter, the monthly newsletter goes out to a list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads, we have partnered with one of the premiere paid screenwriting leads services, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner, recently we’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut.
There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select, you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also, you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. We also have a number of screenwriting classes that are recorded and available in the SYS Select forum. These are all the classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to those whenever you want once you join.
The classes cover every part of writing your screenplay from concept to outlining, to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Susie Moloney. She is a book author who has, who was able to leverage that success into a screenwriting career. She’s from Canada, where she continues to live and work. She’s very down to earth, offers a lot of great insight into the business of writing. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.