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T. S. Cook
Thomas Steven Cook

(1947-08-25)August 25, 1947
DiedJanuary 5, 2013(2013-01-05) (aged 65)
OccupationScreenwriter, producer
Years active1975–2008
Spouse(s)Marie Monique de Varennes

Thomas Steven "T. S." Cook (August 25, 1947 – January 5, 2013) was an American screenwriter and producer, perhaps best known for writing The China Syndrome (1979), sharing with Mike Gray and James Bridges, which garnered him Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Golden Globe Award nominations.[1]

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  • ✪ From College Graduate To Professional Screenwriter - Christine Conradt [FULL INTERVIEW]
  • ✪ Swimmin' Lesson Q & A at the WGA with Shahari Moore & Bob Eisele
  • ✪ Jeremiah Johnson (1/7) Movie CLIP - Sure That You Can Skin Grizz? (1972) HD


Film Courage: I'm wondering if we can start out where you were working at was at the YWCA or YMCA okay...and it sounds like you were doing a fantastic and they wanted to promote you again and if we could start out on that story because I find it so fascinating. Christine Conradt, screenwriter: And so this is a lot earlier and obviously my career and I graduate from film school. I went to USC kind of thought like everybody does when they graduate from film school that you're gonna graduate with like a three-picture deal and that isn't really how it works and so while I was in college I had worked as a lifeguard and kind of an aerobics instructor and at a YMCA and they kept promoting me and every time someone would quit they would say well do you want to learn how to do this job and I always said yes and so eventually I worked my way up to program director and ultimately executive senior Senior Program Director which is right under the executive director so the executive director heads up a branch and then there's a Senior Program Director or two and then all the program directors under that person so I had been working there and it was I mean it was fine it wasn't what my degree was in and so at one point finally I thought well you know I had a lot of school debt going to USC obviously I was like I think I think I was about 6070 thousand dollars in debt at that point and my executive director came to me and said you know we'd really love to give you your own branch but we need a five-year commitment from you to do that and they were gonna pay me over a hundred thousand dollars a year and that would have been great going towards my debt and so I said well let me let me think about that so I went home that night and I really thought about you know what I wanted to do with my life I had gone to film school I really hadn't given it the chance that it deserved and so I thought well I'm this much in debt anyway I'm gonna I'm gonna take the chance on being a screenwriter and so I went back the next day and I thanked the executive director for that offer and said you know I accept it and also I have to put my two-week notice in because I need to take six months off and I'm gonna take out a loan to live on and I'm gonna live my life as a writer and if it doesn't work I can come back and I'll let go of that dream forever but if it does work I owe it to myself to give myself this chance to actually become a screenwriter so I did exactly that she was not happy that I was leaving but um but I did put my notice in and I did take out a loan to live on and during that time I wrote two screenplays I never sold either of them but they both got me work and they got me work and then those got me work and it actually ended up being really the beginning of my career as a screenwriter Wow so many questions I know right because and there's so many little interesting parts of that and scary parts too and I've known a few people that have been stuck with the debt doing something similar yeah so I know that is a risk it's a huge risk and I would never encourage anyone to emulate that in any way for me for me it worked and I think because I'd already spent the four years in school you know kind of gearing myself up towards this career and I think also I needed that time it was such a distraction to be working full-time I needed that time every day to truly be writing and I spent every moment of that six months furthering my career going to networking events watching a different movie every day and breaking it down and doing an outline so I could understand the structure of it all of those types of things and then actually writing spending the time writing so and reading so for me it worked but I you know like I said I've known people also who where it didn't work and you know but you have to really if you're gonna do something like that you have to really make use of that time you know it can't be one of these things where you're gonna try to figure out what you want to do creatively because I think that you kind of just end up treading water in a way you've got to have a plan and you've got to execute that plan fascinating I want to hear more about the six months but just one quick question before or two quick questions actually and is did you already know and forgive me if this is too personal did you already secure this loan so you knew or you knew that you could go and get it no I know that hey trust me when you're sixty grand in debt let me just explain something to you you get so many credit card offers that will you know you can pay twenty thousand here's an additional twenty thousand they all want that you're like the bomber ever oh right because they know you carry debt so and and I was making the minimum payments so but again you're going further in debt by by doing that but yet you're you're sort of like the the golden child for the credit card company so I had plenty of offers I knew I could take out loans additional loans and lines of credit on my credit cards okay so which is it wasn't if it was just which one yeah okay gotcha and then my other question was while you were working at the YMCA were you also writing on the side so you knew that this you mean aside from going to film school yeah I I thought I was going to but I think at the level where you become a senior program director I mean you're working so many hours and you're also I mean I had I had like I think forty five people working under me at that time and so when they don't show up you have to cover and so you come home and you're not in any place to really be creative so I for me I found that I wasn't during that time I had really just put all the writing on the backburner and that was it even on the weekends I would get a few hours in but it what that's not enough to to make a career out of writing so during your two weeks notice I assume were you planning out like what your day was going to be like what's the six months yeah yeah it was I had a I definitely had a plan and I knew um I knew that I wanted to spend the time writing and I just needed to figure out what I was most efficient at I think and for me at that time it was structure like I was always a really good character writer and so I knew I needed to learn structure better and so that was one of the things I knew I was gonna have to work on and so I bought the books and I did all that kind of stuff and so I was I was definitely prepared during that time so that when I could just I could jump off and begin my six-month education since you know six actually ticks by pretty quickly yeah and I'm wondering what was day one like what you got if I could even think about what that was like I think um I think there was a huge sense of relief in it in that I was finally doing what I probably should have been doing for the last couple of years so you know and I felt like I was gonna enjoy every moment of this it may I may only get you know six months of doing it so that's that's basically what I did is I just really enjoyed that this is gonna be the life of a writer you know and probably that was sort of bittersweet too because you thought maybe this was the only six months that she would ever this would happen exactly but I but I wasn't thinking that far ahead because I had a lot of confidence that if I did this I could make it happen so I don't think I ever got caught up in that oh this might be the only time I get to do this I think I was looking at it more like this is the beginning and I just have to figure out how to make this last and how to make the money back so that I could continue to do it how did you know you could trust yourself because I think that's probably the number one thing is knowing you could trust your time and allocating the right resources I think I've always been someone who trusts myself in that um yeah I guess when it comes to that kind of a thing you know the only person that's gonna make something happen as you and I feel like just in general my perspective is you have a lot of control over that so I think for me you know I've gotten into USC it was a very competitive program graduated at the top of my class I had won awards while I was there I knew I was a good writer I wasn't sure why I wasn't working like I wasn't sure why I wasn't selling scripts and so for me a lot of it was like well it's not because you're not a good writer it must be because you're distracted you're not focused so you just got to get that back and once you do you'll be able to move forward and I think that's where my head was at the time yeah I think so many people it's that big dilemma of like do I want to be comfortable and have a job and one that has a good title and that friends and family are going to respect and I respect myself for having or do I want to unfortunately have life be a little bit uncomfortable and that's so were you prepared to be uncomfortable whether it's cutting back on spending oh yeah and I mean I think I still into this day I think that I think I would tell any writer that that you have to be willing to sell your nice car to sell your house and move back into an apartment you have to love this job more than you love anything you own because it can go away like that and just because you you have some success doesn't mean you should ever get comfortable with it because things change the industry is always changing you're changing you're getting older you know there's new people coming in there's so much influx all the time that you really have to be in a place where you're willing to give that up you have to love it enough and if you don't love it enough and you really just want money there are a lot easier ways to go make money than to be a screenwriter so that would be my advice during the six months were you doing this seven days a week yeah Wow yeah but it didn't feel like it didn't feel like work because I felt like I was finally getting to do what I really wanted to do and I woke up every morning loving to write couldn't wait to get back on the script and keep working on it so it never felt like work to me so lastly if someone said Christine I know this is a huge risk and I know that I shouldn't take a line of credit out and I shouldn't or or even something use up my savings whatever it is but I want to risk it and I'm willing to face the consequences what would you say are some hard fast do's and don'ts and that's a great question um I would say go into it with a plan you can't waste a single minute of that time so go into it with a plan and tell other people your plan if this is what you want to do first of all if you tell many people that you're gonna spend your life savings to make a film or to pretend to be a screenwriter for six months most people are going to tell you not to do it most people told not to do they thought it was crazy but I think you have to ask yourself this really hard questions like how much do you trust yourself how much do you want this and how much are you willing to lose and give up you can always go back and get a job at a why or State Farm or wherever you're working and and in general successful people tend to be successful no matter what they do right so you know if you were being promoted at that job you can get another job you'll probably be promoted at that job as well so I would say but go into it with a plan and know what you want to get out of it and have a way to measure that success because a lot of times I think writers we aren't very good at measuring what's working for us and what isn't we just sort of kind of willy-nilly go today I feel like writing this and now the scripts done and maybe I'll turn it in and maybe I won't and maybe mine rewrite it and you have to really kind of look at your life like a business and I think if you can manage it that way you have a better you're better prepared for seeing what's working and then and continuing on that route or seeing what's not working and abandoning that that strategy so you have to look at it more like a business that's that's a big thing too so I'm just trying to figure out the timeline okay so the six months ends and then you don't go back to the why he was like right well I wasn't like suddenly rolling in money and getting offers either and I did end up getting at that time a lot of interest and I was working writing so what I actually end up doing was I was hired to rewrite other people's scrubs so I didn't sell my own but a production company hired me to do some rewrites for a couple of lifetime movies actually yeah couple of lifetime movies they were doing lifetime at the time and so I did that but it wasn't enough to completely pay the bills and I didn't know if there was gonna be more because every time my project ends you don't know when the next one's coming so so during that time I decided I needed to maintain what I was doing during the day I need to be able to take these meetings with production companies and part of working at the Y prevented me from doing that because of my responsibilities there so I basically needed a job that had less responsibilities so during that time I worked for a temp come the that catered to the entertainment stream and so I could pick which days I wanted to work and I was also bartending at night and so you know that was something that wouldn't interfere yeah and then I was wait waiting tables also so kind of doing what a lot of people who come to LA and do who want to be an entertainment field do because it was really hard to have the job where you could make a decent salary because with that comes the responsibility which precluded me obviously from being able to go and have the time I needed to write when I was on these projects and eventually I could just quit those jobs and one at a time and got to the point where I was making a living just writing Wow so that would you say it was like a few years out or yeah I would say probably I would say that probably was four or five years maybe before I could get rid of all the other jobs but during those four or five years I was rather consistently working now on screenplays and and building my body of work so you could almost sense that it's going to be around the corner yeah just doesn't you know Wainwright yeah interesting how are you dealing with being tired from working so many jobs cuz it sound it's exhausting just getting ready for one of those jobs but then you still have to keep your mind intact to do rewrites yeah I think it's um helps when you're near 20s I did my parties but yeah so in your 20s I mean you just have a lot more energy sure okay but also you know again the writing was what I looked forward to so I would get up and I'd go to the job because you have to go to the job but then I would come home and the writing was really something that energized me and so I never really looked at it like I needed to be that I was just too tired to write I just I don't think I've ever really felt that because for me it's the thing that I I just want to do all the time like I'm always so much more comfortable with a pen in my hand and a piece of paper and just in case I have an idea or something so for me it never felt like that I was just curious where did were one of your parents super discipline did you watch because you just have this amazing discipline both of them were you know my parents my dad was a very hard worker and I think my sister and I both got our work ethic from him he was a door-to-door insurance salesman back when they had those right and and he did very well and but he was always working and my mom was the very much pro education she has a doctoral degree and so I think we were just sort of this combination of you know he never went to college but he worked really hard and my mom was all about you know she has multiple degrees and so we kind of were a mix of both of seeing both of those people in our lives so and door to door it sounds like you would have to be so self-care and and he very much was not bad he's very self-motivated right yeah cuz I mean that would you talk about that first knock on that door yeah yeah me too I mean that's definitely not me that's not my personality but for him you know he's the type of person who I mean people would say oh he could sell ice to an Eskimo because he's just that type of charismatic person and he loves getting to know people and talking to them and selling them and and he loves selling things so that for him was a great a great occupation but very self-motivated because you do have to get up every morning and you have to decide where you're gonna go and who you're gonna try to sell to and he had a lot of control over that Wow interesting you were doing rewrites for several years when did you actually sell a first script oh gosh you know I don't think I sold a spec until years into my career most of my early work was doing rewrites and then talking to the producers and saying you know you're you're basically paying other people the bulk of the money to do this original draft and then I'm fixing it why don't you just hire me to start so they were so then they said yes we'll do that and so but those were still work for hire project so they were coming to me with the concepts and the ideas or whatever and then I was just writing them so it took a long time before I actually sold a spec that I had just written on my own and taken the market so it sounds like the the traditional way that you think of oh you're gonna go pitch and they're gonna like say yes and write you a check you had already had inroads and you're already doing work but you were fixing other people's work and you just kind of like created your own job yeah basically it you know most people when they think of screenwriting they think of that they think of the pitch and going into the room and pitching and then something yes go write this for us we love it and then you sell it and that certainly exists it didn't for me that's just there's a ton of work in rewriting other people's stuff and most people just don't know most writers don't know how to rewrite like they they take it to the level that they can either they don't want to change it there's a lot of writers who they really fall in love with their stuff and they don't want to make any changes and ultimately that makes them get fired off a project and then they bring on another writer who will make the changes or they just have taken it too you know as much as they're able to take it and they want to bring in the fresh sense so you know producers will sometimes do that so that for me was where most of my early work was Braun I think that's great too because you know the style of the person that you're going to be writing for so I think that's an excellent way do a lot of people get in that way or is that sort of an interesting way to kind of create your own job I think it's I don't know if a lot of people get in that way I mean I do know other writers especially in the TV world when you're doing features for television a lot of writers get in that way just being able to write other people's rewrites you know that's that's key if you can do that you're pretty much gonna get hired again and again because there are a lot of people who know how to do that and being able to let really listen to what the producer runs and the more you do that obviously the more you understand budgets and what they want and sometimes when you get cryptic notes you kind of can navigate through those notes a little bit better so yeah that's but that is one way and a lot of people don't think of I'm sure the writer that does the rewrites is probably much easier to deal with because they're not as precious because in terms of it's not their work it's not their baby well that's being criticized that's very true I think writers have to be very careful about being precious because even with my original stuff I have to take a step back and make sure I'm not being that way because I don't want to suddenly be the writer that they want to fire and hire you know someone else but it's difficult you know I mean especially the more time you invest in a project I feel like the more precious it becomes to you it which is why I also I think it's important to you know to finish projects and some writers will work on something for three or four years like one ones grip and just you got to end it and you got to move on to the next thing because every time you move on to that next one you become a better writer so get those first seven under your belts and click them off and then you know keep moving and you know is you can always revisit them but you've got to keep going through it so even though the way you sold your first script was through the fact that you were already doing rewrites and the people already knew you're writing it and loved what you did do you then go in cold and pitch and is that a way that you've sold I am I've never sold anything that way ever I've never and I've done it I mean just like every writer I've gone in the room and pitched and yeah but typically those projects don't pan out at least they haven't for me most of the projects that I get are usually because you've met a director you've met an actor you've met a producer you've talked about it for a while yeah we want to work together you come up with an idea is this the right time eventually everything aligns and you know they say hey we've got the money you want to do the script let's let's go for it now and that's how it works so we have a wonderful viewer named Marcin and by the way hi Marcin and thank you for all your comments how do I ask a connection for example a successful screenwriter to help me break into the business literally how do i phrase it and what do I ask them for exactly Marcin that is a great question first of all people who are successful in the industry are very very busy and if I wish you could see my desk because I have literally probably 30 scripts on my dust stacked up and they come from there first of all there's the work stuff that you have to read because you're gonna either rewrite it or they need you to read it for some reason or other consulting jobs and then I have my friends who I'm very close to who are in my writers groups and I read their stuff and they read mine and so we sort of have this symbiotic relationship and then there are the people I don't know quite as well who send me scrubs to get on that list is very difficult and what a lot of new writers kind of don't understand is that I don't have a lot of free time and so you know if I'm gonna spend any time at all you know having a life I can't say yes to everyone who asked me to read their script because literally I probably get a request a day to read someone's row so that's a very tough thing so first of all let me just say this don't get your feelings hurt if someone says no they can't read it for you or they can't help you because they just can't and it's just I just want to make that really clear it doesn't mean that they're awful people or they don't care about you or they don't want you to be successful and I think sometimes people take that wrong and the best way to get people to read your script is to network go to and there are so many ways you can do it join writers groups number one that's the biggest thing have other people at your level reading your script giving you notes and then as you get better they get better and then everyone sort of can you sort of develop this network of people that you can go to so that you're not just cold calling asking someone hey will you we read this networking with people so that you sort of do a favor for them and now they owe you a favor so an example that I sometimes give is go volunteer at a film festival you know it's it costs you nothing you get to go you get to meet everybody you get to meet all the filmmakers that are there you get to meet the people who are running it they owe you a favor get to know them volunteer to be on someone's set go PA for two weeks someone who comes in pas for free for me for two weeks I'm much more likely to say yes they're gonna get on that pile versus someone I don't know right so start building the network first before you want to just hand off a script because otherwise even if they say yes a lot of times it takes some months and months to read it and then you're just kind of waiting and you shouldn't be waiting you should be moving on always be moving on to your next project so that's my advice yeah and in in a similar question as Marcin has I knew someone who was upset that a friend of hers did not help her and was higher up on the sort of writing food chain and was very upset about that and I don't know how I feel about that I've never asked anybody like that but it would be a tricky situation and this person was offended that the other person didn't help them and I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on that because then there's a relationship at stake yeah I think I think you have to be careful about that because just because someone's honest a higher up on the food chain although I really don't like that they're just further along on their journey than you are and the thing is is that that doesn't necessarily mean they have the right contacts to help you either and a lot of people don't really understand that they think oh you must be so well-connected or because I've sold a lot like for lifetime they think oh well you must know if I give you this script you can take it to lifetime for me I dunno what lifetime is looking for because I work with them a lot a lot of times that script isn't what they're looking for so you know even if it was a great script I know it's not what they're looking for I can't pass that on for you so there's a lot of pieces of information you just don't know it's very easy to get resentful I think in this because you work really hard every writer does and sometimes it takes a really long time for things to pan out and so you're looking for any means you can and anyone that will just give you that leg up you know and and and I've been there and I get it but you have to be very careful because I think that those things can weigh on you a lot and when you start getting too reliant on other people doing things for you like oh well I tried to give it to her but she wouldn't pass it on and then so that was a setback and then I tried to get my friend to do this because he knows an agent but he wouldn't look at it and that was I think that you're doing yourself a disservice so if you're constantly looking for the next way for you to develop the relationship with the people you need to meeting instead of relying on other people you're just gonna be helping yourself down the road and those relationships build over years and at the end of that now you're the person that people are coming to interesting okay yeah thank you so I think aside from writing all these scripts that you do and rewrites but you also do like speaking engagements and you go to I do um I speak a lot of conferences actually and I do a lot of workshops which are a lot of fun I love teaching and so and then I also do consulting when people hire me to read their scribes so I do that too which is also great because it's also another form of teaching when I do consulting usually they obviously give me a feature that I'm giving notes on but it's really not about notes for that particular script it's about teaching them how to become better writers and so that's a lot of fun for me too and so they can go to your website which will have underneath a video and yeah the information is there yeah okay great let's say I'm a hypothetical person attending one of these conferences and then I'm one of the people waiting in line to talk to you and you know just say hey really enjoy the information I was wondering dot dot dot and that is how can I become a working writer so I don't have to work a part-time job I just want to go right into it I think that everybody's journey is so different in this business you know if you want to become a doctor you go to med school you do your residency and you become a doctor and you know you go work at a hospital that's not the way it works in the film industry the key to success in the film industry is being open to opportunities and being able to see them when they come everybody has sort of this type A personality plan right where we go okay so I want this by this date and then I'm gonna try to do this and and we think of that as being ambitious right that we have a plan we're working toward something and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that but if you get too obsessed with that so much so that you don't see opportunities that come to you that may not fall in that plan you can miss out on a lot of opportunities and so like I tell this story I've told it before when I was in film school a friend of mine does Amba movies and there's only five girls in my class and so I was always a zombie and one of his movies because he had no one else to choose from and I'm years later fast forward we were graduated and he's a real producer and he calls me up he's like hey Christine I'm doing a real zombie movie do you want to come down and be a zombie just for old times sake and I was like sure I'll come down for one day and so I go down and I'm sitting there and I'm in full zombie makeup like my hair is he's out I'm green and I'm sitting there with the background and if you've ever been on a film set you know that you know background is pretty boring you're sitting around most the time and but it's fun and it's a great day off and as I'm sitting there I meet this guy also a zombie who had just arrived from from Boston and he had gotten a part on an HBO series called Carnivale this is actually several years ago and we start talking and he tells me that he has the rights to this off Broadway play and he's looking for someone to adapt it so at the end of the day he was a cool guy really nice I tell him well you know if you need someone to adapt that into a screenplay for you let me know and then the very next day the director calls me it was like I heard you're adapting our off-broadway play and I was like oh yeah I did commit to that yesterday but sure so well let's meet and talk about it so I go to meet with him and the director and this guy and I realized when I get to the coffee shop we're gonna meet I don't know what they look like because we were all dressed as zombies and so I have no clue what they even look like so we finally find each other and we end up doing a short and that short premiere at the LA Latino Film Festival and that was great it was a great experience I got to walk the red carpet wonderful I just did it to be nice right after just doing something to be nice for my friend from college a year later I get a call from them and they're like you know what Christine and we have some good news based on the short that we did we've got financing to make the feature do you want to write the screenplay for $25,000 and I mean yeah of course no I'm gonna say no to 25 gram so especially when I was still in debt and all and this was during that that period of five years where you know I was just doing things to be on film sets and to network and so yeah I did that and again that was an opportunity very still very proud of that film that film became Hotel California starring Tatiana Ali had a great cast it premiered the following year so two years later as a feature at the LA Latino Film Festival and did very well so again you have to be open to opportunities I never went in to playing a zombie thinking I'm gonna meet somebody who's going to have me write a short that we're gonna then turn into a future it doesn't work out that way just make yourself available and try to meet the right people and create situations where people owe you favors and they want to work with you again and when you can do that then those opportunities will start to come but you've got to be able to recognize them when they happen that's a great story I feel like we're in this sort of like hacking bubble where everybody's got it wants to try to like make this quicker and make that quicker and if I follow this person on social media they might they might just put me in the project which it all happens I know that it does but I feel like we were in this new era of everything's got to be quicker and it sounds like you although I'm sure you wanted certain things to go faster you did things a little bit of a different way but I think a lot of it was I never went into all of that thinking that there was gonna be some payoff I just loved being on film sets I loved meeting other filmmakers I loved taking an off-broadway play and adapting I'd never done that before and so for me it was more about the love of doing those things rather than the payoff of somehow I can I can turn this into a moneymaker for me or somehow I can make this turn this into a rung in my career it was never ever like that so you know the Deepak Chopra says you know we make every decision based on love or fear right so all of those decisions when I look back now I know we're based on the love of writing and the love of becoming a screenwriter not the fear of am I wasting my time helping this person when I should be helping that person because they're gonna pay me quicker they're gonna get me into their movie or they're gonna do this it was never like that for me right I like this your intention was different it wasn't about what were you gonna get right and when you're not looking at what the pay when you're not trying to see what the payoff is down the line there's no there's a disappointment in it when the payoff doesn't come because you're open to whatever that's gonna lead you to next and so your since you're quoting Deepak Chopra I'm gonna quote Louise hey since we're going there and her thing that I love that she would say was well that's not a million dollars and people stop on it and walk away from it because again we're so we're looking for you know I mean I'm sure everybody would love to walk the red carpet but it took these little steps it took you going to the set it took you talking to this guy it you know it forming a relationship a business relationship and then then that happen but people just see that result of oh she's on the right carpet a that I want to be there exactly and they don't really know what it takes to get there and and that's why again you have to be so careful about letting yourself become resentful like looking at other people and where they are and saying why can't I get there why can I get there that energy is not well spent so focus on why are you writing if your goal and just honestly be honest with yourself if your goal is to make money if your goal is to be famous if your goal is to be recognizable and have a name then this may not be the career for you because there there are easier ways to get those things than by being a screenwriter so I think if you just can say I love writing I want to see what today brings and enjoy every moment that you get to be on set you get to be talking to directors whatever you're doing you know these writing conferences are a great example when you go to these writing conferences people are there because they just love to write they're just soaking it in and it's such a creative inspiring environment spend your time doing those things right and take every piece of information that you can and and learn and become better at what you do because the gratification that you've got from becoming really good and writing something and saying wow this is pretty amazing that I mean nothing compares to that not walking a red carpet not seeing your name on television nothing compares to that feeling as a writer who's had so many screenplays produced what have you learned about what studios are looking for um you know it's always changing number one I don't work a lot with studios I work a lot with networks because most of what I do is for television so um you know it depends I think they're looking for something that fits their model when you go to sell a script you're either selling to a producer or to a network or studio those basically that's it so if you're working with a producer they have budget constraints they have location constraints they typically have a business model where they make so many films a year at a certain budget level and then they know who they're gonna sell them to it's a business so you have to be very hyper aware of what those constraints are for them and if you are and you can write to those constraints then you have a much better chance of selling your your script so understanding budgets understanding production those types of things are really important for screenwriters and a lot of times that's the piece that they kind of leave out the most writers want to sit behind a computer and write and they don't really like to get out there and so they don't like to get out there and learn about production and stuff but the more I learned about production the more I became a producer the better writer I also became because I understood what could be done at certain budget levels and I understood the tricks of shooting and and how to make that that'll work and then ultimately that's what kind of combined which helped me become a director then also so then know the studio or the network that you kind of want to write for absolutely pay attention to what they put out I have so many people tell me oh this is a great script for hallmark or this is a great script for a lifetime and I read it I'm like this is not at all what hallmark wants or what lifetime wants or so they're not paying attention you know to what is being put out it because they think that theirs is gonna fit that model and it really doesn't so you have to be very open-minded and and self-critical before you decide that it's right for a network or a studio because it may not be so I think you said earlier that most of the screenplays that you've sold have been through prior working relationships where you knew the person but when you did go and pitch because it sounds like you you have done that when someone said no what did that no mean to you um it meant that the project wasn't right for them at that time you know I I think you have to be you have to have a lot of confidence in your writing first of all to get to that level where you're able to pitch and they're willing to take a pitch from you you're probably at a level where you know you're a pretty good writer so you can't let that discourage you I mean there are projects that we've pitched all over town that I still love and I still think are great projects and no one's bought them and so it's just it wasn't the right time for that you can kind of obsess over that if you want but the best thing to do is you just keep moving on go to your next one go to your next one you can always come back and revisit something later and a lot of times when you do revisit it you start to see things about it that you didn't see before like oh I should have done this differently or knowing what I know now I would do this because you're just more informed than you were before so that's to me you just don't let it discourage you that's the biggest take away from that did you always have that approach to it or was the first time you know sort of I always had that approach I I think my attitude was always and I think I've gotten softer as I've gotten older but I think when I was younger my attitude was always like well you know if they don't like it forget them you know I'm moving on to the next person like if they don't get it someone else will so but I think that is the right to to have and now I think you know I think that you can you can internalize a lot of things on the writer and I think writers tend to we're always looking for like oh what did I do wrong what could I do better well you know why isn't this working for me and I think that if you just stay true to what you believe in eventually you're gonna find that audience that's gonna connect to that and that producer and maybe it's just the timing maybe you haven't met them yet but again it goes to why networking is so important expanding that group of people and networking and finding the right people that you want to work with that who creatively aligned with you is really really important yeah and the interesting thing is to so many things changed behind the scenes whatever part of the industry that you're in and you'll never know why and you won't know is it me is it what what was it did I say the wrong thing whatever it's how actors this all the time from a director standpoint when we do auditions and they you know they come into the room and they have five minutes to do their read we know the moment they walk in if it's a no and Wow I tell actors all the time like don't obsess over what you should have said differently or how you should have delivered a line it's not even about that they either we either connected you to that character or we didn't period and it's sort of the same with writing you know you're gonna find people who you just at one point you're gonna be the one this is the project someone loves this project it's what they want to do and they get it but there's gonna be lots of people who don't you know that's why there's lots of stuff on television that's why there's lots of movies playing at any given time you know it's there's not one thing for everybody so don't take no for an answer just keep moving like that so when you take on a TV writing project how much information does the network give you ahead of time it depends so sometimes they'll come to me well it'll be either the network or a producer so they can come from either but sometimes it'll just be a title so for example you know we have for lifetime we've done a franchise of different movies like we've done the at 17 series so we've got several titles that are have at 17 or the perfect or the online so they'll come back to the producer usually and say we want to do another installment of the app 17 series and so how about this title and then we kind of get together and I come up with some ideas and run and past the producer I mean then we send them to the network and we see what they say and if they like him then we develop them so it can be that way it can come from the other way when I did the bride he bought online which I wrote and then directed for a lifetime it was actually I had written that as a horror movie and was gonna direct it and crowdfund and direct that as a low-budget horror and then ended up pitching it because they had said well we're looking for some teenage really for a thriller with teenagers and so I thought well this one easily adapts so I'll have to do is sort of make it less horror II and more thriller II and I did that and so you know it can come back direction too so that one came from me and then they liked that so it's just understanding those needs that they have and fulfilling and sometimes they come to you and sometimes you come to them that it's always a very collaborative relationship but by the time it gets made it's gone through a lot of people's hands and ideas and fascinating so let's suppose it's one of these where someone throws the title at you so they say you know what let's meet in two weeks what's your process going to be like for those two weeks to come up with I mean I'm not even sure are they even giving you sort of a synopsis of who this character is or no they're just tight sometimes they do sometimes they don't a lot of times they'll just say you know we want it needs to be a female lead this age we're looking for a thriller it has to be contained it has to be the times that's held the budget level so because that makes a big difference in you know how many locations you have and that kind of thing so then you just come up with some ideas that can fit and and then they they're spark to those ideas or they don't and a lot of times it's like well I like that idea but we're doing something kind of similar what if she did this instead and and so that's how it comes about so those conversations end up becoming the basis for whatever you're going to write so then in those two weeks I mean are you do you have sort of almost come of of main characters in your head like I can see this happening to this person or I mean I'm just wondering that sounds fascinating no not really I think I just kind of come up with those I start thinking about it at the spur of the moment so a lot of times I'll get inspiration like I'll watch a few movies and see what they've done lately and and then I'll think well you know this is sort of an interesting what they did this was unique what if we did something like this or I have never seen a character who is agoraphobic so let's give her that and like that'll kind of bring an interesting element to it so those types of things and I think also like I just read a lot I'm always looking for interesting articles about crime and stuff like that because truth is stranger than fiction a lot of times so you can find out interesting things that you don't even know exists like diseases and psychoses and the way people get away with something for so long and so taking those elements and sort of just collecting those and having them always ready I think are kind of helps a lot too interesting so you're always sort of just an avid reader of various things whether it's like a police crime blotter in that and whatever in the local and then you just kind of file it away yeah I'm interesting yeah and when I find something really interesting sometimes it'll be interesting enough that I'll say you know we should maybe do this story but usually by the time you've pitched it ten other people have pitched that if it's if it's already made headlines ten of the people already pitch that story to them so it's just keeping that kind of stuff in mind so that when you're writing you go oh this actually this would be really interesting and I haven't seen it before does the network require that you submit an outline before you start writing sometimes it depends on the exec that you're working with and it depends on the producer sometimes the producer will require it sometimes it's just we go from one paragraph to one page sometimes we go from one paragraph to a script it whatever they want whatever makes them feel comfortable in their process is what I deliver to them what's the typical show that you're writing for the length of time that it takes me to write it oh oh or that what would be the typical air time oh so for most television it's 83 to 86 minutes for a feature okay so then what does that translate into in terms of it just pens on the producer in terms of pages so you know though the sort of the standard is one page equals one minute of screen time that's sort of a loose guide so I have a producer I work with who won't shoot anything under 116 pages because he likes to have a lot of footage to cut down to help with the pacing I have other producers I work with who they don't want anything over a hundred pages so it depends on their prop again their production process so yeah interesting yeah so I'm really getting the sense that it's about flexibility it is about yes being flexible is is definitely a help and and giving them what again giving them what they want so many when I ask producers why do you fire writers I ask every producer I've worked with why do you fire writers and they will always say because they don't give me what I asked them to give me so it's either notes they've given and then the writer comes back and they haven't done that with the notes because they thought they knew better or they just didn't know how or they asked for a certain page count and it wasn't that page count to me those are the wrong reasons to get fired off of a project those are things you can control so if you're just paying attention and asking them what they want and they want to tell you what they want so I ask you know what do you want your page lengths to be here where do you want your ACK lengths to be and then that's what I give on wow that's interesting so what's the timeframe that you're usually given once you've once they've given you the title you've met with them you've come up with some ideas what time frame are you working with it depends typically I get four weeks for a first draft and then two weeks for every subsequent draft which is it's pretty quick actually it's not that difficult if you're only working on one project at a time but a lot of times you you know if you're a working writer you're working on multiple projects because it takes so long before one of them suddenly comes back and says okay we're we're greenlit we can actually move forward you don't know when that's going to happen so you know you've got all these sort of irons in the fire and then eventually one will come back and sometimes to come back which is great but now you have to balance how you're gonna you know deliver both of those scripts so that's suppose let's just have it be one because I'm really curious how you spend your time and how you how you organize it so if you have four weeks to write a first draft for one what's your work schedule going to be like so my process is probably a little different than most people I I write fifteen pages a day so basically I figure out when it's due and I back out 15 pages per day and I take into consideration if I've got something going on in the afternoon like today is not a 15 page day because I'm I'm with you guys thank you but I and then I work until those 15 pages are done so if I'm done at 3 o'clock because I had a great writing day and it went really smoothly fantastic if it takes me till 9 o'clock it takes me till 9 o'clock and then that's when I end my day it helps too it helps me to do that because I keep on track and I also don't get caught up in my own oh my gosh I'm loving this I just want to keep going because that can happen too when you're really on a roll writing you'll I mean I've had that happen where you just don't eat you just keep working through the night and you're just so excited about what you're writing that's fine but you can't make a living living that way right you have I have relationships and I have people and dinner to make and things like that and so I stopped when I this is my way of doing it I stopped at 15 pages and that's it and pick back up tomorrow and start again were you always that precise with it I mean that's faster yeah it's kind of it feels very I know that seems very technical right for something that's so creative but again like I said before you have to look at this like a business right so you have to plan and organize and figure out what's giving you the best results and for me this gave me the best results because I know at page 11 I only have a few more pages to do and I can be done and so you know and at the beginning of every day I start out and I go okay that's enough it's a big enough chunk that I'm not forcing myself to go back and reread that's a deadly thing that writers do is they go back and they rewrite themselves over know over so forces you to keep moving through and then you do your rewrite at the end so once once those 110 pages or whatever are done that's when you that's when I go back and I build in usually a couple days off because you need that time away from it to kind of forget about it a little bit and then when I come back and I reread it I give myself two or three days to do the rewrite and it's just basically cleaning everything up or changing at breaks or you know if I've come up with an idea in between that time to add then I'll do that that's great because I mean really in a sense you want to think that you're your own boss but really the network is your boss so you're working for them but you've also got to monitor yourself so that sounds like a great way to keep yourself on track so you're not doing two pages a day but you're not burning yourself out right and I think also you can get obsessed with is the writing good is it not good do I like this do I not like it when you have to get those 15 pages done eventually you have to say screw it I've got to move on and it forces you to move on which i think is good for the process because nothing really good comes from sitting there obsessing over the same scene so it is what it is I moved on I can come back to it and giving yourself permission to do that I think is very healthy and I think it's actually good for the process and the product so now let's suppose you have three projects going are you still doing 15 pages it depends so yes so 15 pages on something I don't you know some writers will say I'm going to do 7 pages on this project in the morning and then 7 pages I don't do that I say okay this is my I'm doing 15 pages today on this and I'm taking three days off to work on the next project and then I come back to it so that's kind of how I organize it I have a hard time splitting it up and trying to work on different multiple projects than in the same day especially at 15 pages I think if you were doing fewer maybe but 15 is pretty ambitious yeah that would sound difficult if the stories are so different or you know you just want to keep the character and all that separate and you have to split it up and one day because your mind is good it's worse when they're actually similar like if they're both projects for the same network because or they're both thrillers because then that's when it gets confusing it's actually better when doing like a romantic comedy and then also working on a thriller because they're so different you don't you don't mix those characters up at all it's that obsessing though it truly is I've seen so many writers who will sit there and they will go over the same thing over and over and it's just not productive at all right so you're really okay we we can talk I wanted to talk about once the draft is because that's I think we've heard from a few writers that some of them do like three to five pages a day so forgive me because I'm not in that space writing scripts but how are you able to do 15 a day I mean that's fact I think I think a lot of well first of all I think over time you just get better right so you know it's not 10,000 hours once you put that in and you become the expert in whatever you're doing you know you can recognize when things aren't working you recognize when they are working for me to do the 15 pages you can't waste time at all on obsessing over if you like the scene or you like this line of dialogue it's it is this is it it's on the page you move on and then everything's about coming back and refining it later but getting it out is a much more productive use of time then getting stuck and sort of that turmoil of not knowing if this is good or if you want to go this direction or whatever I have to make his decision and and move forward and when you do that you tend to get a draft done faster which gives you more time to go back and kind of remould that draft a lot of writers also turn in their first drafts and I think it's really important to never show anyone the first draft to always go back at least once and clean things up because it just makes such a difference well that was yeah it was curious what happens after the four weeks you haven't read it let's suppose you have a hundred and ten pages or so give or take I'm assuming then you're coming through it well the 110 would be in three weeks so that I would give myself that last week take a couple days off right so at 15 pages a day what is that for a hundred page I mean you only really need 10 days right to write the initial draft and then the rest of that is going back up and cleaning it up and moving your app brakes and tweaking dialogue and that kind of stuff oh and so you then you throw in the three days to let it breathe for a little bit so you give it some space and then you come back again BAM it's four weeks and then you have a meeting with someone that's at how it works yeah okay interesting so four weeks you're showing it to this person and what does that process like um so I send it in and it depends on usually if it's a very first draft the producer is gonna read it first they need to make sure that they're on board and you obviously when you go to the studio or the network then you go as a team with the producer so they are happy with the draft so they usually give you a set of notes first I implement those notes and then once they're happy then it goes to the network or the studio and we get their notes back so by the time they read it we already know that the producers approved it for budget and they like it and so you've kind of got that person in your corner too if there is something to fight for like if there's a I guess if they don't agree with I don't know whatever creative decision you've made the producer is already on board and understanding why you did that and they're sort of on board with you so it makes it a more productive meeting also to have that then just like a bunch of different people giving random different notes that's those are the worst and I've had that experience too but it's not it's not the best way to do it you know it's better to kind of like go through the process correctly because then then the drafts get better and better so I wonder if we can even go in closer to a day of doing 15 pages what time do you start what is that what is it like doing those pages I usually I get up early so I usually get up around 6:00 and I start writing right away and yeah I mean it's I take a break for lunch when I get hungry and otherwise I mean I'm really just focused on getting those pages done and that's it I don't know I don't know how to tell you any different yeah since the day and you know it's a lot of sitting in front of a computer right and so you it's 6:00 a.m. you're ready like I get more done in the first two hours of my day than probably the last five hours of my day so you know whatever I'm doing if I'm at the gym it's a better workout in the morning if I'm here working it's you know I'm getting a more productive I'm getting more written so I try to take advantage of those hours I happen to be a morning person right you know I get that and and I know we've talked to other people I think you have less distractions then too whether it's just you know just knowing you're up before a lot of other people or whatever they're controlling distractions I mean you can check email every 10 minutes if you want or check Facebook every 10 minutes if you want but you have to you have to force yourself not to do that because that really interrupts your ability to focus and you're forcing yourself not to go back and reread be right because then you're gonna be stuck on exactly interesting now was that always the way for you did you go back and reread stuff and did you learn I think I think I developed that over needing to be able to finish these projects more quickly and find a more efficient way to do it because I remember when when I was in college and writing I would do this thing where you know I would get obsessed with the writer's block oh I can't get through the scene this is holding me up and and it's just it's just a waste and that's fine when you're writing as a hobby it's not really fine then either but you know at least you can manage it when you're when you have deadlines and you know you're getting paid and people are expecting scripts and there's a crew waiting on you to do this so they can shoot it yeah you don't have that luxury anymore so you just find the most efficient way are a lot of these productions taken to Canada to shoot the film quite a few are but there's actually still quite a few that are shot in LA and and a lot of places we've you know Georgia there's a lot of stuff is shot now in Georgia New York even New Mexico so they're expanding a little bit a lot of it has to do with the the coming and going of tax credits and the availability of cruise so as these little pods sort of develop you know like for example then Coover was really hot it's still very hot when Vancouver was sort of on the come-up there weren't very many cruise so everyone take their films to Vancouver but there's nowhere to work on them so then you know so them they now they have film schools and they're developing that more so now more films in and so that's always in flux and everyone's trying to do that do you ever go on set I did yes oh you do okay and so what's it like to be on set first of all how long is the production usually um it depends so a lot of these TV movies shoot for about 12 to 14 days so the time on set is actually very short a lot of time I mean some of them in Canada we were shooting six-day weeks usually their five-day weeks yeah so you're not there very long when I go to onset I'm usually there for a week for prep and then the two weeks and then if I'm not directing I'm just writing there's no reason to be there after it wraps if I'm directing then obviously I'm there for a little bit or producing them there after it wraps but otherwise I come home so as a writer on set what are you sort of just and forgive me just but like seen but not heard and then if they have something they need worked on then you're there or how is that I have actually been really lucky because the producers who have asked me to come on set they want me to be there working so I'm meeting with the actors the actors are going over their lines a lot of times they'll have things they want to to change or whatever so I'm doing that as they're going on the tech Scouts I go with them and I'm rewriting based on what how the director wants to shoot something so I'm rewriting the scene so that it matches what they've discussed they want that kind of thing so if you're really part of the process where as it seems like is that more film then where the writer is sort of just like great we have your thing we'll call you if we need you yeah I mean there's those also you know and there are certainly producers that you know you sell the script and you don't even know it's shooting right and then it suddenly comes down like oh my movie came out and no one told me so there's there's obviously that too and that's typically how it is I've just been with producers who they like having the writer on set to make those changes quickly so yeah but it's both ways and neither way is right or wrong you know they was kind of talked about how the writer isn't really no one cares about the writer and it's like that goodby and you don't even get invited to like to premiere anything but but you are sort of out of the process at that point you know you're so much a part of the beginning of the process and then you really hand it off and they take over and you should be moving on to your next thing I haven't watched television in a few years just because we've been busy doing film courage and you know we watch a lot of Netflix things like that but I used to watch a lot of Lifetime movies and I'm just wondering has the character type evolved absolutely okay curious yeah because what the one I was watching it it was probably early 2000s maybe mid tooth and so it was more I'm thinking of a Connie sellecca as like you know the mom that's fighting for her kids or something which is great but I'm just wondering how has it become a little edgier I think it has its you know it's interesting because like anything television is always reacting to what's going on in society right so and and they're always sort of bound by ratings because that's the game right if you have a network it's all about getting the highest rating so so networks are always evolving and you know when I when I remember a lifetime when I was a kid and my mom used to watch it it was like a lot of like women getting beat up and then like fighting back finally you know and so we've kind of gone through all of that and now it's it's very much about female protagonists but it's also about evil women and and it's there's family components to it but there's also a lot about women who are in their career so it's it's really kind of expanded to to I guess reflect women in society and what they want to see so yeah it's it and it changes all the time we get new mandates all the time like okay we're not doing those types of movies anymore we want to focus more on these types of movies and so you know and then they try it out and either they work or they don't and so again it's just always evolving and the theme of the secret in terms and I'm not talking about the book the secret but like that they're like hidden things that are uncovered it sounds like that's a huge part it is and for especially for a lifetime like they really like the everyday woman so a lot of times it's you know a story about a woman who witnessed a crime you know something that could happen to you that you wouldn't expect and now suddenly you're thrown into this situation and you're having to deal with just the tools that you have as a an everyday person to try to get out of this extraordinary situation and then the whole online component which when I was watching it was just kind of coming into the sort of cycle and a lot of that I mean so much of it now is reflective of all the social media stuff and cybercrime and and everything that goes on online online dating and so it's it's constantly holding up a mirror to what we're doing and it's creating a lot of fears I mean I have to it's kind of funny in this sense that you know if you just watched some of these networks you would think like online dating is the most unsafe thing on the planet to do right because everybody's a crazy but you know that's what makes them fun too right right because it's always sort of like the perfect guy or a perfect girl or whatever and I think those are some of the know and you don't expect that but then there's something a little bit off but we get off on that like it's it's kind of interesting you know so exact a heightened version of what we kind of see anyway is that and there's an online component to it you know we're never a movie premieres there's a whole like we watch the Twitter feeds you know people watching and tweeting at the same time with people they don't even know you know watching the same movie and either making fun of it or you know oh my god I can't believe she actually did that or oh I knew it was him you know that kind of stuff and so that they've really embraced that too because that's the direction we've all moved fastening so if you're doing sort of instead of like watching a football game people are tweeting about it or a political debate they're watching a Lifetime movie and so you're looking at that information to seeing like why people reacted a certain way I find it fascinating as the writer to see where people are surprised and if we were able to misdirect and if it worked and that kind of thing so I like watching that I mean the the network's watch it for other reasons because they they have a social media platform and you know obviously it helps their ratings and stuff so but for me um I just like to see what people are guessing and what they're not guessing and if if we've you know duped them into believing this person's the bad guy when it's really that guy and for me as fun so I know we're talking about writing be very practical business life but it sounds like you really do have to be your own sort of you know middle manager or boss the stress and sort of unromantic notion of deadlines how romantic a phrase you know deadlines are the things that may that separate someone who writes for a hobby from someone who writes for a living and those are two very different things so there is a stress obviously to deadlines but there's also a relief to deadlines in that once you're done with this project it's done once it shoots you're you're off of it otherwise you know when it's your hobby it's your sort of this this project that you can work on forever sometimes people do work on them forever so you know knowing that you're gonna get to the finish line and then move on to the next thing helps keep you looking forward and I actually really enjoy that you know I one of the things I didn't like about the YMCA was dealing with the same issues over and over the same personnel issues you know the same two people that you're counseling three months ago are back in your office and we're talking about this again the same budgets every quarter you're putting them together again it got really boring I for me I love going full force into one project and then now I'm done I can forget about it and I'm full forced into the next thing so that's the beauty of deadlines right so you're not because I know I think you'd mentioned about like you didn't totally want a day job and I I get that because it is a lot of that same whatever the dynamic is but then there's new problems with being on your own because there's like this freefall sort of that could happen or if you keep yourself on track which it sounds like you are excellent at yeah I try to be yeah you know absolutely it sounds like it I mean it's that's that's a skill in itself though yeah I think that's but that is a part you really have to develop and you have to again I always tell writers this you've got to view this you know because everyone sees writing as their dream job right and they have this fantasy that they get up in the morning and they're still in their pajamas and they're petting their cats and they're writing for two hours and it's this wonderful you know existence and it can be whatever you want it to be right you're obviously in control of it but you have to approach it like a business you're you're doing it not just because you love it anymore but also to make money there's a whole other component and if you can balance them right you can have both you can still love it and you can still make money but the money part is a big part of it you know because we all have bills to pay so if that's not for you then keep it a hobby you know and enjoy the process of writing two pages a day if that's what you like to do that luxury goes as soon as it becomes a profession what did you do to get better as a writer from 10 years ago to now what do you think it's been whether it's just the 10,000 hours we talked about it's a lot of it is the 10,000 I mean I'm a big believer in that once you put in your 10,000 hours you're at a place where you just have the confidence and you know what you're doing and so the obstacles that you encounter you just know how to tackle them and so that's very different then I think then I was 10 years ago before I had done that but I think also just being able to recognize your deficiencies and for me you know when I read a great script and I go oh my gosh you know this is a great script I get really excited about it what are they doing that I'm not doing like what can I learn from what this writer did and so I think just constantly learning you know and constantly reading and constantly researching and having that in the back of your mind all the time that you want to get better you'll just gravitate towards things that make you better instead of finding that comfortable place where you know you know you're good at writing this so I'm just gonna write this over and over I think forcing yourself to stretch and because once you do that again it's it's a great feeling you know when you've written something good and you've done something you haven't done before you then you have something that you feel really proud of I'm wondering what scripts those are if do you have one off the top of your head that you looked at it was like wow I wish had written that or I want to do something it happens all the time I got can't think of like a specific one that's just come out but I was just speaking on a panel and it was we were reading the first five pages of a bunch of people's scripts and then we were critiquing them and we didn't know the whole panel was and we didn't know whose was whose and there was one that I thought was great that I really gravitated to and so the guy came up afterward and was like would you like to read it was my script that you liked and I read it and I just thought it was really fantastic he's a great writer and I was I remember reading it and it was an action script and I don't typically write action so I'm it was so crisp and it was just moving so quickly and I was like I just love how he's he's structured this and how you know even on the page the way it looks just so conducive to what he was trying to convey in terms of the content the I I was like I've got to remember so I was as I was reading that I was absorbing all that you know because he may not be as far on his journey as I am he is certainly a better action writer than I am and so I was learning a lot from how he he structured his and the words he chose yeah and that's where you were talking about earlier I'm not sure what the word was bitterness but that's where you get that chance to either take it from bitterness so wow what can I learn and how can I do something similar yeah you can learn from everyone and that's the thing there's so many people who I think people just want to feel validated so badly that they get to a place where they're like I'm the expert and everyone's just be listening to what I have to say about this and that's it's kind of crazy because yeah you may have put your 10,000 hours and you may be very good at what you do but you can learn something from everything that you read even learning what not to do but even in in really bad scripts you'll find these little moments where I'm like oh my gosh that was really well conveyed or you know so just being open to those things and learning from other people because people are constantly adding to this body of work that exists in the world and there's so much for you to be able to read out there just you know be open to what other people are doing I but then again you have to love reading so many writers don't reading so you know read read read read and see what other people are doing a lot of people want to start writing without ever having read a script and I just I don't understand it are you also reading novels too or not when I have time I don't have a lot of time yeah but yeah when I get the chance you know I love to read novels yeah it's such a lost art I miss it too and it's really hard in today's world because so much amazing content is on YouTube so we can learn it even faster by watching a video but I miss the act of reading and it's it's a lost yeah it is and even I mean I even get caught up sometimes in reading nonfiction because I feel like okay at least I'm learning more than if I'm reading a novel but you have to remember you are learning you're learning you're by getting caught up in it and seeing how that writer has taken you through this flow of their words you know you're learning a lot by just doing that - that you can then bring to screen writing as well do you believe in screenplay structure I do I believe in the three-act structure I believe in learning the rules so that you can then break the rules but there is an acceptable structure to storytelling and there's a reason it works and I think if you can get really good at that so good that then you can manipulate it that serves you what was one of the first books on screenwriting that you read um I think the Syd field book because it was required reading for at USC film school but but it's still a fantastic book and I think I actually still have it in my library oh nice okay when you're writing dialogue are you rules for it the same or it really depends because of the character or even the producer you know what they want it depends yeah a lot of it is knowing what the producer wants but a lot of it also is just finding the character's voice you know one of the mistakes a lot of screenwriters make is that they all the all the characters sound exactly alike you should be able to you know block out the character name and know who's talking and you know you can learn a lot about how people speak just by sort of listening like listening in coffee shops to how people talk and stuff people rarely are some very self-reflective people rarely say exactly what they mean people rarely talk in complete sentences and so you know the words we choose when you think about when you go to say something there's probably a hundred different ways you could think of to say it why are you choosing the particular way you you choose and when you start to think like that and why your character is choosing to say something that way and what they really don't want to reveal like why ye will they go to this length but they won't go just a little bit more vulnerable when you kind of understand that about your character then I think writing the dialogue becomes easier but you have to put that thought process into it first to know what they want to conceal and what they want to to give I think and then and then you can start working with the subtext and all that kind of stuff that makes all of that flavor kind of come out would you say a lot of the productions or the networks that you're writing for are heavy on dialogue just because I mean the nature of women and we tend to talk more especially with other women like it that's we kind of get together and talk yeah heavy dial I think well the genres tend to be heavier on dialogue I think also you know when you're when you are doing a very contained like a low budget that has a lot to do with it too because a lot of times the people are sitting and talking right you're in a room you're in a house or whatever so they're sitting and talking but I think making sure that that pacing is good so it just doesn't feel like really you know people just explaining things that's kind of the death of people's dialogue is when people over explain and they don't know how to sort of weave in that that exposition kind of nicely then it really just kind of like hangs there that's that's not good writing so hopefully there's not much of that that you're watching on television when you're watching that well just as you said you know sort of the the tone of the culture has changed has a tone of conversation in how you got it changed I think it has I think that people are actually it's it's less than it used to be because I think people want things to happen very quickly you know like the two-minute video versus the seven-minute video wait so they want to get through this and the pacing has to be much more quick than it used to be so scenes are shorter and so you get to the point much more quickly I think that has changed over time I'm hoping to get your thoughts on finishing this sentence and that sentence is even when you walk out of the best film school upon graduation you are oh you're just another person with a dream really that's it I think you know being 19 20 years old you don't I didn't know what to do with the best film school education in the country right I was just a 19 year old skipping class half the time you know not really realizing what I was being given until later so you know but in hindsight is 2020 so but you come out of film school it's still still about you it's still about what you're gonna make of that education because all the education in the world and understanding how to write a screenplay does nothing for you if you're not willing to sit down and put the work in interesting how how long after did you did you have that realization I think that realization came when I took those that six months I think because I really until then I don't think I was working hard I just thought it was gonna come to me you know and then I realized I've I've gotten off track I've got to do this I've got to do this and that's when I that's when I realized it when did you go back for your masters I was I was a lot older I was in my 30s when I went back for my masters and so it's in juvenile delinquency I think I'm gonna lie my master's degree is in criminal justice and I focused on juvenile delinquency and cyber crime Wow what was just curious what prompted that because that's a fascinating I've always been interested in it and then I think because I was just writing so many crime dramas and and crime thrillers that I thought at one point I thought how can I be a better crime writer because that's really what I am and I made a list of things and on that list was get a master's degree and so I did that and also on that list was to go through one of the citizens academies for the police department which I did that so I learned so much from all of those things on that list and you apply that now to the stories and also to in terms of the the victim and maybe their reaction or their falling prey to someone absol in in my criminal justice program we actually took a victimology class which I didn't know that even existed that there's a whole study of how victims are treated by the system how they react the proper way to deal with them primary and secondary victims and all of these types of things I didn't know anything about that so that was a big eye-opener to just learning that type of stuff and then also being able to sort of condense that material and use it to help other writers who are because it's very difficult to research like I can't call a probation officer and say hey I've got a character who skips probation can you tell me how to do that like they're never gonna tell you that because you might have a brother who's trying to do that so so that's very hard stuff to research so by getting the degree gave me some legitimacy also because everyone in my class was in law enforcement they know am an actual screenwriter now I can actually call them and say I need your help with this so that was actually a big help too that was completely unintended interesting wow so victimology that's incredible and so that plays a lot into a lot of the stories in terms of people wanting to believe someone's good I mean because I think we all can see ourselves as victims mm-hmm in a lot of ways and and but I know that that's a big part of certain stories and that that you you have good intentions and then you're duped kind of thing it was just it's not just that there there's also and this is where you know we get into a lot of political correctness when we try to have these conversations and we shouldn't because we need to have honest conversations about them but at what level do victims play a part in being victimized you know there are certain people who will never be victimized and there are certain people who are victimized over and over and over and you know and again you know we we get so caught up in trying to just convey this idea that it's not the victims fault it's the perpetrators fault when something happens they were the ones that made the choice to commit the crime the victim was the victim which is important but there but what is it about certain people and their mannerisms and their choices that make them fall victim when other people have it and so a lot of it is studying that which I find incredibly interesting also and so you've been able to use that and it sounds like a lot of the characters that you write yeah I try to incorporate a lot of that kind of stuff just to give it the authenticity that I think it should have and and I try to bring up some of those questions right these ideas at least let people think about them as you know even if we don't we don't make a concise statement about them that there's this idea that you could be semi responsible for what's happening to you so I try to bring this up and then let people talk about those things later on so I looked at your IMDB and is the first credit writing credit the perfect nanny with Tracy Nelson and I thought yes that is the first one yeah okay great so how is that the one that you had from doing the rewrite and then the producer wanted to hire you um no I got fired off that process oh no yeah I that was with a producer who I was working as an assistant in development and then left he sold the company I left was working then as a reader for a little bit and then he invited me to come back and do this rewrite which I did and I think I did two drafts and they hired another writer which is fine if I mean at the time I was sort of sad about it but it was a great learning experience because I didn't know what I didn't know right and so now looking back to see where I've grown where I'm now the last rider on because I you know that was it was good for me to go through that experience and I was very grateful that he gave me the opportunity even to do that one because that ended up me my first credit okay so the one that you were fired off with maybe not giving away too much information but did you see what it was or was it something that was out of your control no I just wasn't a good enough writer to do what they needed me to do okay so I I did improve the script and a lot of what I put in there ended up in the final cut but I think I just didn't know structure well enough to be able to fix some of the issues that they had that they needed me to fix and so I fixed the character stuff and then I think they hired another writer to fix all the structural stuff that was wrong with it and so at that time did you see it as structure like a structural defect or no no I did I couldn't recognize that at that time yes so then once you probably were excellent at structure then you saw that's what it was yeah and I think it's also just over time understanding getting to know more what what they want when they tell you we need this or we want this what that means and how to incorporate that into a screenplay you know why we want to add edge to this it's not edgy enough that's a very obscure you know idea so hearing that when I was that early in my career I don't think I understood how to implement edge and now when someone says that okay now I understand the questions to ask so I can tell me what they really want and I understand what they mean by that so it's just over time I've learned what that means so if it's let's suppose it's a housewife that has everything perfect and nothing's wrong how would you incorporate some edge into that because I'm picturing that as the Lifetime movie that I knew which was so interesting but what edge would we add two legends they might have like a dark secret or a fetish or something in their past that they feel ashamed of that they've kept from their husband so something like that the the is sort of just kind of lurking in the background this seems to sort of resurface and doesn't even have to be part of the a story it can be something that just complicates the a story right so you know she like let's say your housewife they're been trying to get pregnant she's finally gotten pregnant and she has this ex-boyfriend who is getting out of prison and still wants to be with her and so now he's gonna come back and complicate her life and that may not be the a story but it's something that now she has to tell her husband who this person is and bla bla right right and there's the edge and there's edge right so there's the intrigue to that so it's it's adding - it's just it's it's rounding out that story right and making people real because everybody has things that they're not proud of or whatever and so this is something that you can add those and we can go even further you know in the Lifetime movies or TV movies with that kind of stuff so is the aim to show sort of perfection and then as we said before backing out and then seeing that it's not perfect I don't know if it's to show perfection I think a lot of what intrigues people are the pretenses right I think so much of what we try to do even with Facebook is to show everybody in the world what this great life we have what every great you know you don't take the picture of the crappy ramen noodles you made last night cuz you're so tired to cook you take it when you're at a nice restaurant right look at as beautiful or this thing that you made and you spent hours on we put out a life that we want other people to see because that's what we think they're forming their opinions of us the irony is that most people care more about themselves and they care about anyone else anyway so they're not even forming those opinions but that's what we do our characters are the same thing you know our characters live lives based on what they think they should be living right and so that's why it's kind of fun when you can you can flush these characters out and give them these things in their past or things that they're doing or temptations or whatever you know that cause those little things of conflicts right and they always have to have a great place to live and all the life time I mean I've never seen a woman and a lifetime movie live in a bad place that was never happy there's definitely an escapism element to that as well this is sort of a standard question but it always gets great answers best piece of advice and what was it and worse pieces of advice and what was it oh no one named names the best piece of advice I got was from a professor in film school and he said do what you love and the money will come and I know that I mean he that's not his quote but it was the first time I had heard it and I think it's very important to remember to keep doing what you love and the money will come don't focus on the money because when you start focusing on the money you make decisions that aren't necessarily the ones you'd make based on love so that to me was the best piece of advice the worst piece of advice was probably you don't have to change anything it's your script and you know there is always this thing about how much should you change you know before you're selling out how much should you change that a producer wanting to change it how much did you fight for your own vision my feeling on that is you can fight on the next one sell the script right and get the credit and get the money and at some point as you kind of progress through your career you get more and more power and then you have to change less and less so but you got to get there first so early in your career do what they need you to do make them happy you're the client though the client I mean it's you know do what they want and and make the changes you know if you can stick to two you're your own creative vision on the next one so with both pieces of advice did you agree or disagree with them right away or did it take some time it took time and you know very early in my career I did that I pull the script away it was actually my thesis script that I wrote in film school I had a producer interested in buying it and after he gave me the notes I was convinced he didn't get the project he just doesn't understand it pulled the script away and I ended up never selling that script and I don't know if it would have made any difference in how my career went or not because you just you don't know but in retrospect that was me being a prima donna and thinking that I knew more and once that happened that experience happened I lost that attitude which probably served me very well for the rest of my career so I kind of hope that most writers have that experience early on because that will help them and then with the best piece oh do what you love the money well I mean I'm thinking of the book of this Virginia Virginia sign tar or something I think I have that book actually at home and I read it too because I was in a place where I didn't know but but did you because I had trouble believing that concept it's it's hard to believe that concept right well I heard it so young that I actually did believe it initially because when you're in college you're not jaded yeah you haven't actually been in the real world but but you do lose it you absolutely lose it because you know when the money starts to not come you the first thing you do is question that right and you start to compromise and but the reality is even through all those difficult periods and and they will happen especially if you're a writer especially if you're freelance than anything stick to what you love because it will it will happen it will happen and you just have to to keep the faith I know it's hard it really is but my life is proving it I feel like and I think if you stick with it long enough almost everybody's life will prove that


Early life

Thomas Steven Cook was born in Cleveland to Horace William, a business executive, and Betty Marion Cook (née Thompson), a homemaker. He began working as a technical editor in 1974 at engineering and manufacturing company ITT Gilfillan in Panorama City, California. In 1984, Cook was hired as a lecturer at the University of Nevada in 1984.[2]


As a writer, Cook has written several television movies. He got his first writing credit with the 1979 thriller film The China Syndrome, which earned him Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe-nominations for Best Screenplay. He continued his career by writing episodes of shows, such as Project UFO (1978), and Airwolf (1984). For Nightbreaker (1989), Cook was the recipient of the Writers Guild of America Award. He received his second Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Miniseries or a Special, sharing with Paris Qualles, Trey Ellis, Ron Hutchinson, and Robert Williams for The Tuskegee Airmen (1995). By the 2000s, he wrote The Hive (2008), and NYC: Tornado Terror (2008), both of them which aired on Syfy.

Personal life

Cook was married to homemaker and writer Marie Monique de Varennes. He died from complications of cancer on January 5, 2013. He is survived by two children, Katherine Grandbois Cook and Christopher Thomas Cook.




  1. ^ Mike Barnes. "Screenwriter T.S. Cook Dies at 65". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  2. ^ "T. S. Cook Biography (1947-)". Filmreference. Retrieved July 19, 2009.

External links

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