On this week’s episode, Writer Adam Pava (Boxtrolls, Lego Movie, Glenn Martin DDS and many many more) talks about his writing career, and why sometimes when he writes features, he doesn’t always get credited. Tune in for much more!

Show Notes

Adam Pava on Twitter: https://twitter.com/adampava?lang=en

Adam Pava on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1106082/

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Autogenerated Transcript

Adam Pava:

I think that’s the main thing is have samples that show exactly what your voice is and exactly what makes you different than everybody else, and what you can bring to the table that nobody else can. I think that’s the first thing, but to get those open writing assignments, I think it’s just a cool errand to even try because they’re just so risk averse to hire anybody that hasn’t done it before. I think the better shot that you have is to make smaller things and then they’ll seen you’ve done it. You’re listening to Screenwriters Need to Hear This with Michael Jenman.

Hey everyone, it’s Michael Jamin. Welcome back for another episode. I may be retitling the name of my podcast. So I’m, I’m going to be vague for everyone, but I’m here with my next guest, Adam Pava, who’s a very talented writer I worked with many years ago on show called Glen Martin, d d s, and he works. We’ll talk. I’ll let you speak in a second. Pava, you just relax. I’m going to bring you on with a proper introduction because you’ve worked a lot, lot of features, a lot of animation. So I’m going to run through some of your many credits. Some of them are credited and some of them just are not so credited. We’re going to talk about that even though you’ve done the work. So I think you started early on on shows like Clone High, Johnny Bravo, I’m going to skip around.

You worked with us on Glen Martin d d s, but then you’ve also done Monsters versus Aliens Dragons. I’m going to jump around, but wait, hold on. I’m skipping a lot of your credits, Pavo, a lot of the box trolls you’ve done, you work a lot with Lord and Miller on all their stuff, all the Lego movies, goblins. You have something in the works with Leica, which is one of the big animation studios which you’re attached to direct as well, and then also some other shows. Let’s mention My Little Pony dreamland. What else should we talk about? A bunch of the label, it’s hard to talk about the credits because so many of ’em are things that are either in production or development that they’re not supposed to talk about yet, or they’re things that I was uncredited on. And so it’s a weird thing.

And why are you uncredited? How does that work? It’s super different from TV and movies. So back when I worked in tv, I did tv. I mean, back when we worked together it was like what, 10, 15 years ago? Something like that. But I did TV for the first decade of my career and everything you work on, you’re credited, even if you’re just like the staff writer in the corner who says three words and doesn’t make, get a joke into the script. You’re one of the credited writers. Movies are a different situation. It’s like one of these dirty secrets of Hollywood where they always want to credit one writer or a team of writers. Sometimes it’ll be two writers that get the credit if both of ’em did a huge chunk of the work. But the thing that usually happens these days on big studio movies anyway is they will go through three or four writers over the course of the years and years of it being in development and all those writers who worked on it before the final writer or sometimes just the first writer and the last writer will get credit and all the ones in the middle won’t get credit.

Or it’s like the W G A has these arbitration rules where it’s like, unless you did a certain percentage of the final shooting script, you’re not going to get credit at all. So even though the guy who brings catering gets credit and every person on, so will you arbitrate for credit or do you go into these projects knowing that you’re not going to get credit? Usually I go in knowing that I’m not going to get credit or I will. Sometimes there’ll be a situation. I did about a year’s worth of work on the Lego movie, the first Lego movie, and Phil and Chris, Phil Lauren and Chris Miller who directed that and wrote the first draft of the script and the final draft of the script. They’re buddies of mine and so I’m not going to arbitrate against ’em and I want them to hire me in the future and I love them and they really wanted, they’re written and directed by title, and so of course I’m not going to arbitrate in that sort of situation.

And also to be fair, I don’t think I would win that arbitration because they wrote the first draft and it was already the idea and it was brilliant and it came out of their minds and it was awesome. And then they had me do four or five drafts in the middle of there where I was just addressing all the studio notes and all the notes from the Lego Corporation and all the notes from Lucasville and all that kind of stuff while they’re off shooting 21 Jump Street and then they come back. So you were just doing it to move it closer and then they knew they were, yeah, exactly. They knew they were coming back onto it and they were going to direct it and they would do another pass. They would do multiple passes once it goes into storyboarding once it’s green lit. So I was just trying to get it to the green lit stage, so they had written a draft and then I did a bunch of drafts addressing all these notes and then we got a green lit off of my drafts and then they came back on and they started the storyboard process and directing process.

And the story changes so dramatically during that process anyway that the final product is so far removed from the drafts I did anyway, but it was a valuable, my work was needed to get it to that point to where they can jump back onto it. But very little of that final movie is anything that I can take credit for and I wouldn’t want to take credit away from them on that. So I do a lot of that kind of work. Did they have other writers that worked on Legos movie as well, or just you? On the first one, it was them and me. There was these two brothers, the Hagerman brothers who had done a very early treatment, but that had set up the original idea for the movie of Allego man sort of becoming alive. So they got a story by credit, and then they definitely always have a stable of writers that they bring in to do punch up work and to just watch the animatic and give notes and stuff like that.

So there’s a whole bunch of people that are contributing along the way. Funny, they come from tv, so they really run it. They run it as if they’re still on TV a hundred percent. They have their writers. And so I’ve gotten to work on a lot of their projects as one of their staff writer type people basically is the idea. So it’s all uncredited work, but it’s great work. They’re such great guys and you’re working on really cool things every time. And so now there’s a new, in the last few years, the W G A started this new thing called additional literary Material credit. And so if Lego were to have come out now, I think I would’ve gotten that credit on it, but at the time, that didn’t exist, so I got a special thanks. And how did you, oh, really? Okay. And how did you meet these guys?

They gave me my first ever job before I knew you. I mean, I had written a movie script that was an animated movie. This is like 99 or 2000. I was just out of grad. I wrote it while I was in grad school. And Wait, hold on. I didn’t even know you went to grad school. Did you study screenwriting in grad school? Yeah, I went to U S C screenwriting. Oh, I did not. I hide it from you. Why do you hide it? For me? I don’t know. It’s a weird thing where I feel like a, it’s like I was in this weird secondary program that wasn’t part of the film school. It was the master’s of professional writing and screenwriting. And so people would get confused and I didn’t want to lead them on, but also I just feel like it got me to a place and then I was like, I didn’t want be part of a good old boys club where people are just hiring U S C people or whatever.

That’s the whole point of going to USC for Yeah, people ask me, should I go to film school, get an M F A, and my standard answer is, no one will ever ask for your degree. No one caress about your degree. The only thing they care about is can you put the words on the page that are good a hundred? But why did you, but what it did offer me, and I’ll get back to how I met Phil and Chris in a little bit, but this is a good side conversation. It gave me an opportunity to do some internships on a couple of TV shows. And that was super, super valuable. So when I was at U SS C, it was 99 and 2000, and so I interned my first year on a little show called Friends, which was still on the air. I was on the air at the time.

I was just the stage intern. So I was moving the chairs around during the rehearsals and fetching coffees and getting frozen yogurt for cast members or whatever, just shitting my pants, trying to be a normal human being around all these superstars and was not, I wouldn’t say it was the best experience of my life. It was definitely one of those things where I was like, everybody was super intimidating and everybody was really busy and the cast were in the middle of a renegotiation, so they’re all showing up late. It just felt like everyone was angry the whole time. And I was like, dunno if I want to work in tv. But there was one writer’s assistant who was just like, yeah, because on the stage you’re a writer, you need to be in a writer’s room, you should be an intern in a writer’s room.

And I was like, oh. And then so I was able to get an internship on Malcolm In the Middle, which had just sold, it was in his first year, so it was a summer show. So I jumped onto that in the summer and was able to do that. And then in that writer’s room, I was like, oh, these are my people. These are actual, wait, you were an intern. They let you sit in the writer’s room one. It was like for doing all, getting the lunches and making the coffee and all that stuff. Linwood was nice enough to let me just observe in the room for one day a week just to, well, if I didn’t have other stuff I needed to get done. So it was super nice as long as I didn’t pitch or say anything and I was just, I never would.

But it was cool to, that experience showed me that show was so well written and it was so tight and those writers were all geniuses or I thought they were all geniuses. And then I’d go in the room first, I would read the scripts and I would think, oh my God, I’d never be able to do this. And then I got in the room and I’m like, oh no, they’re just working really, really hard and banging their head against the wall until they come up with a perfect joke. And then by the time it’s done, it seems like it’s genius. But it all was just really hard work, really long hours to get to that place. So that taught me like, oh, maybe I can be one of those people. If I’m just one cog in this room, I could do that. And so that gave sort of the confidence to do that.

So I had done those. Getting back, I can loop back into the Phil and Chris thing now because this actually connects really well. I had done those internships. I graduated U Ss C and I had this script that I’d written as my final project or whatever, and it was an animated movie, and I thought you could just sell an animated movie, but I didn’t know, they didn’t teach me this in grad school that at the time they developed ’em all. It was like only Disney and Dreamworks were doing ’em at the time. This is 2000. And they just hire directors and sort of were an artist in-house to sort of create the stories or back then that’s how they would do it. And so I sent it to some agents and the response was always like, Hey, you’re a really funny writer. This is really good.

I can’t sell this. I don’t know anybody that buys animated movies, but you should write a live action movie if you can write it as good as this. And so I wrote another movie that was Live Action, but it was silly. It seemed like it might as well have been an, I go back and read it now and I’m like, it’s basically an animated movie, but it didn’t say it was animated, it was live action human beings. And I submitted it to a small boutique agency at the time called Broder. I don’t know if you remember them, Broder Crow, we were there. Yeah. And so Matt Rice was an agent there at the time, and he had on his desk, his assistant was Bill Zody. I dunno if you know him, he’s a big name agent now, but he was an assistant at the time.

He read that script that I wrote and was like, oh, you know who this reminds me of these other clients that Matt has, Phil and Chris. And so he passed it on to those guys and they were looking for a writer’s assistant on Clone High because they had just sold their first TV show. They were a young hotshot writers that were just deal. And so I met with Phil and Chris, and they hired me as the writer’s assistant on Clone High, which was like, they were the same age as me. They were just like, we don’t know what we’re doing. But they’re like, you’ve been in a writer’s room, you’ve been knock on the middle and I friends and you, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what I was doing at all, but it said on my resume that I had had these experiences.

So they thought I would be a good writer’s assistant for that reason. But they were the coolest dudes from the very beginning. They were just like, you’re the writer’s assistant, but also you should pitch in the room. You should act like you’re another writer. We have a really small staff, we have seven writers, and you’re going to get episode eight. I mean, it was crazy. They were just like, they gave me a lance and that never happens anymore. How did they get an overall deal when they came? Oh, it’s the craziest day. So they went to Dartmouth, they made each other at Dartmouth and then they were doing cartoons while they were there studying animation. And one of Phil’s, I think it was Phil, I think it was Phil won the Student Academy Award for a student film that he did. And it was written about in the Dartmouth Alumni magazine.

And there was a development exec at Disney whose son went to Dartmouth and read that article and was like, Hey, called them in their dorm room. And we’re like, if you guys ever go out to la lemme know. We’ll set a meeting. And they literally, the day after they graduate just drove to LA and then called ’em up and we’re like, we’re ready to get hired. And it worked and they got hired, it worked. They got hired just to do Saturday morning stuff, and they did that for a little bit and everything they were doing was too crazy for Saturday morning, but it was like Disney. But then Disney was like, well, you can start developing stuff for adult Disney or for primetime stuff. And so they came up with the idea for Clone High, and it originally sold to Fox as a pilot to be after the Simpsons or whatever, but then it didn’t get picked up and then M T V picked it up and then they had a show.

So it’s crazy what a trajectory their career has. Yeah, I know. And now they’re running Hollywood. Yeah, pretty much. Pretty much. Yeah. They were good guys to meet right away mean honestly, it was like to become friends with them and just to ride their wake and get some of their sloppy seconds and some of the stuff that they don’t want to deal with, it’s honestly, it was great. Did they call you a lot with stuff like that? Hey, we don’t want to do this. It’s yours less now than they used to. I mean, there was a point where I was one of their stable guys that they would call. I think they have met a lot of people in the 20 years since then, but early on it was like, I mean, even their first movie was Claudio with a Chance of Meatballs, and they brought me on to help rewrite the third act at one point.

And it was just from then on, they would always send me their scripts and just add jokes or to give feedback or whatever, and they’ve always been like that. And then I’ve noticed the last maybe six or seven years as they’ve gotten these huge deals and all their projects are now just these massive things, it’s not quite the same relationship where they would just text me or email me and be like, Hey, read this. Now. It’s like they have a whole team of people. They have a machine now, but we still are friends. And then things will come up where they’ll hire me for things here and there. I wonder, honestly, I don’t want to make this differe about them, but it’s so interesting. I kind of think, I wonder what it’s like to be that busy. It almost feels like, oh my God, I’m too busy.

They’re so busy. They’re the hardest working people I know. It’s like people always wonder how this stuff comes out so good. And it’s not that, I mean honestly, it’s just good because they stay up later than everybody. They never stop tinkering with things. They’re never satisfied. They always think the next thing they do is going to ruin their career. And so they run on this fear that propels them that, I mean, they harness it. It’s not like it’s a secret. They know that this is what makes them great and utilizing all their friends utilizing, they’re the kind of people that are the best idea in the room wins. If you could be the PA or the head of the studio and if you have a great idea, they’re like, let’s try it. And they also try a lot of stuff that doesn’t work and they’re given the leeway to go down a lot of dead ends and then realize that’s not the answer, and then back up and then try it again and try it again and try it again.

And that’s how a lot of animated movies are done. And so it drives everybody crazy, but also creates amazing product. That’s what, because I’ve interviewed a couple of guys who worked at dreamworks, which John Able who does a lot of the kung movies, and he describes it the same way. I was like, wow, it’s so different from writing live. It’s so different from writing live action. The whole experience sounds exhausting to me. Do you find it the same? Yeah, I mean when I first started in it, I was like, this is ridiculous. Why don’t they just write a script and then shoot the script? And then over the years, I’ve learned to love the process. I mean, I was frustrated early on when I would realize how much gets thrown out and how much changes and how much. It’s just, it’s out of the hands of one writer.

And I think a lot of it is also just ego thinking that you could do it better than everybody. And then once I embraced, oh no, you have a bunch of really brilliant storyboard artists and you have a bunch of really brilliant character designers and head of story and a director and all these different people who, and layout artists and even the animators themselves, they all add something so vital and valuable to it, and you learn stuff from each of their steps and then you’re just given the leeway to be able to keep adjusting and adjusting until you get it right. And that’s why animation comes out so much tighter often than live action is just because you’ve been able to see the movie so many times and keep tweaking and tweaking until you get it right. Now there is a point where sometimes I feel like you can take that too far and then it just becomes like, oh, we had a great version, four drafts to go and now we’ve lost our way, or we’re just spinning our wheels or whatever.

See, that’s why I get lost sometimes. I’ve been in shows where you rewrite something to death and then someone says, we should go back to the way it was, and I’m like, what was the way it was? I don’t even remember anymore a hundred percent, and I’ve stopped ever thinking You can do that. I used to think I would hold out hope though they’ll realize that the earlier draft was better. They’d never do. It’s like everybody forgets it, and then you just have to have the confidence to be like, well, we know we’ll come up with something better together that it’ll be from the collaborative mind of all of us. And then I think now I’ve seen actually the last few years, there’s a little bit of a tightening of the belt budgetarily, and that leads to faster schedules. And so instead of having seven times that you can throw the story up from beginning to end on the storyboards, like the reels and watch this movie, you can only do it three times or so.

That gives you a little bit more of a window of like, okay, we got to get it right in three drafts or whatever, in three storyboard drafts. And who’s driving the ship then in animation? Is it not the director in this case, it’s Lord Miller, but they’re the writers. Well, Lord Miller are often the directors, and so when they’re the directors, they’re in charge when they’re the producers, they’re in charge When they’re on the Spider Verse movies, for example, they’re the writer or Phil writes them and then they hire directors. But Phil and Chris are the producers, but they’re sort of like these super directors. They’re very unusual. Yeah, it’s not, yeah, that’s an unusual situation. But other movies somebody do at dreamworks and there’s somebody do at Leica Leica, it’s like the director and the head of the studio, Travis Knight, who it’s his sandbox and it’s his money because he’s a billionaire that funds the studio.

He has the ultimate say, and so the directors are always working with him, but it’s always collaborative. It’s always like you get in a room. When I’m working at Leica, it’s always like me, the director and Travis trying to figure it out, and he’s trusted me to be, I feel like he doesn’t trust a lot of people. He is kind of closed off in that way, but once you earn his trust, you will be in that room and you’ll figure it out together or whatever. But every movie’s different, and sometimes I’m on a movie just to help fix it for a little bit, and then I’m just a fix it person that comes in for a little bit. Sometimes I just add jokes. Sometimes I just, there’s been movies where it was a mystery animated movie and they’re like, can you just rewrite the mystery?

I was like, what a weird assignment. But I had three weeks still. But in this case, they’re calling you. How are you getting this work? Just reputation, they’re calling you out of nowhere? Mostly now it’s reputation. I mean, sometimes I’ll be submitted to it. I mean, the first time it’s always like you have to be submitted. And I mean, I can tell you how I got hired on box rolls. That was a big breakthrough to me. I mean, it was after I’d done, so Lego was obviously just having known and worked with Phil and Chris forever, and then they got hired on Jump Street, and they needed somebody that they trusted to dear the ship for a while while they’re gone. And so I was able to do that, and that was a huge big break. It was like, you couldn’t ask for that. I just, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.

But after that, at Leica, they had a draft of a movie before it was called box Rolls, it was called Here Be Monsters, and it had been in development for years and years and years and gone through a bunch of writers and they hadn’t quite figured it out. It was kind of a mess. It was a big sprawling story that had a lot of moving parts to it, and they had heard that on Lego, I was able to harness a lot of the crazy ideas that Phil and Chris had and put it into a structure that made sense. And so they asked me to come in and do the same thing, or before they even did that, I did a punch up. I got hired to do a punch up on that movie, and I knew that it was going to be a huge opportunity to impress them.

I really, really wanted to work at Leica because at the time, they had only had Coralline come out and I loved that movie. And then I had seen maybe ParaNorman had come out or it hadn’t come out yet, but it was about to, whatever it was, I knew it was a new animation studio doing really unique original stuff, and I got asked to be part of this round table, and it was all these heavy hitter Simpsons writers. It was like J Kogan and Gamo and Pross, all these people that you’re like, these are all legends. They’ve done a million shows and they get hired to do punch up all the time. That’s like their bread and butter, right? I’m not so sure anymore, but okay, no, no, but this is in 2011 or whatever.

And I was like, I am going to take this script and analyze it and come up with character moments and come up with, I’m not going to be able to compete with those guys with the best joke in the room necessarily. I’ll have good jokes to pitch, but I’m going to have like, oh, what if we adjust the character to be more like this? And where those guys were all, not those guys specifically, but the room in general, these were all guys who were maybe reading five pages ahead and then pitching off the top of their head. And I spent a couple of days writing jokes in the margin and ideas in the margin, and I killed in that room. I got a lot of stuff in and to the point where a few months later when they needed a big overhaul, they asked me to come in and do sort of what I had done on Lego, just take this big thing and hone it down into, so it was a rewrite job at the beginning, and then it turned into three years of working with the director in the studio to change that story.

We threw everything out and started over basically a couple times over the course of those years end up, but how are you get paid? Are you getting paid on a weekly scale? Because I don’t know how that would work. Do you get paid? It starts off with a draft and then it’ll be a typical thing like a draft in two rewrites, but you quickly run through those and then they keep needing your work. At least they’re not getting free work out of you. They’re picking no, then it turns into either a day rate or a weekly rate, and that’s where I bought my house.

I made so much money on my day rate. They would literally just, Leica would call me and just be like, oh, we’re going to record an actor in a few days. Can you just go through all their scenes and write three or four alts for every joke? Just have a bunch of stuff. And I would spend a few days doing that, and then a day rate, you get paid really, really well, that stuff adds up. Or they would be like, we just need one more pass on the third act, or we just need to go through the whole script and remove this character. And so all these little weekly assignments, and then you’re just like, that was very lucrative doing it that way.

Michael Jamin:

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Adam Pava:

You usually, because done so much animation and it sounds like you always set out to do animation, is that I did set out to do it, and then I didn’t set out to only do it. I thought I could do both, but you kind of get pigeonholed a little bit. It’s hard. I’ve gotten hired to write a few live action movies, but there were always a live action movie that had an animation element to it. It could be a hybrid movie or be a family movie that they think, oh, because you’ve done family work, you can do this. But nobody would ever hire me to just do a horror movie or whatever. And I don’t know if I’d be the right guy for that either. I think my sensibility tends to be more animation based, but also, I think movies are such a different thing than TV where there’s like, they’re so expensive.

If you’re spending $80 million or whatever, you want to hire somebody that’s done it before. So it’s really, really hard for the studio bosses or even the lower level executives to fight to hire you if you’ve never done that kind of thing before. And so you get, it’s not pigeonholed. I love doing it and I love the work, but it’s also, I get why I get hired for certain things and not for other things. But also I feel super lucky because animation is one of the only parts or the only genres of film that has not shrunk over the years. Movies in general, they’ve stopped making live action comedies almost completely, except for stuff on streamers. They don’t make rom-coms anymore. They barely make action comedies. It’s like they make superhero movies and Star Wars movies, but then animation movies are evergreen. And so I feel really lucky that I sort of fell into this area that there is still work to be had.

So yeah, I mean, you really have put together a really pretty impressive career. And I know not all your credits, not all your work is credited, so what I mean? Yeah, well, it’s either uncredited or there’s so many projects that died Vine. So it’s like you read my, I said you that list of credits and it’s like I’m looking at it over earlier today. Oh, it’s just a list of debt projects, but that’s expected. When you go into it, you go, okay, they’re not all going to go. That’s expected. It’s all right. I was looking at my, I was organizing my, it’s a strike, so I have time to do these things, organizing my folders on my computer and putting everything in, and I had over 150 folders of each. One is its own project, and not all of those are work that I’ve done.

Some of them are like, I got sent this thing to pitch on, and then I had one meeting and it went away. And some of ’em I did a few weeks on, or some of ’em I just did day work on, but 150 projects over the years. Some of ’em I’m on for a year or two or three years. So it’s insane. And so the hit ratio is super low of, I got really lucky when I transitioned out of TV and went into movies. It was like the first two things. Well, I sold a thing to Dreamworks that didn’t get made, but then right after that, it was Lego and box trolls. They both came out in 2014, and I worked on both of ’em, and I was like, oh, this is going to be easy. You work on a movie and then it comes out and then it’s cut to 10 years later and it’s like nothing else is my name on it has come out.

I’ve worked steadily. I’ve worked really well. I’ve been very happy. But it’s definitely, it’s a different thing than TV where you’re just working and getting credited all the time. Well, yeah, but it also sounds like, I don’t know, it sounds like to me, maybe I’m wrong. It sounds like you don’t need to hustle as much doing what you do. No, I feel like it’s the opposite because on TV you can get on a show and you’re running for years, but on a movie you always know what’s going to add, but they’re coming to you. People are coming to you with offers, in other words. Oh yeah, sometimes. I mean, yes, the ones that end up happening, that’s true. But there’s so many that I’m just on a list at the studio, but I’m in a bake off with six other writers and I don’t get it.

So you put a lot of work so people don’t know what to bake off is. So this is when you have to pitch to get the job and you have to put in several weeks of work. That’s the worst. That’s just the worst. And that’s the majority of my life. Oh, is it? That’s like, yeah. Yeah. So there’s definitely, I mean, between Phil and Chris and Laika, I have, and a little bit of Dreamworks now. I’m doing my third movie for them right now. So that’s pretty good over 10 years, three movies. But other than those places, it’s always like you’re getting sent stuff, but that doesn’t mean they want you. It just means they want to hear a bunch of takes, and so you have to try to fight for the job if you really want it. Or I used to spend months or maybe eight months coming up with the take and having every detail worked out.

And then I realized over time, they don’t actually want that. They want a big idea and some themes and some ideas of what the set pieces are, and they want to know that you, I mean, honestly, it’s, I don’t even recommend that young writers go out for them because you’re not going to get it anyway, because they’re always going to go with somebody that has done it before. Especially, I mean, not always, if you might be the rare exception, but so much. Well, then what do you recommend to young writers to do? Dude, I don’t know. I mean, I think you have to write great samples. I mean, I think that’s the main thing is have samples that show exactly what your voice is and exactly what makes you different than everybody else, and what you can bring to the table that nobody else can.

I think that’s the first thing. But to get those open writing assignments, I think it’s just a fool’s errand to even try, because they’re just so risk averse to hire anybody that hasn’t done it before. I think the better shot that you have is to make smaller things, and then they’ll see you’ve done, it’s not even try to get these big studio things, get a small indie thing if you can, or make your own thing if you can, or just try to work your way up in a smaller way. I mean, all the big name directors out there all started on small indie movies. And I think that’s got to be the same for writers now too. So many fewer movies. Is there anything that you’re doing on the side just for the love of it that you’re creating for yourself? Or is it, I haven’t, in the last few years, I haven’t.

I’ve just been busy with work, but during the pandemic, I had plenty of time. Nobody was buying movies, and I am wrapped up on something and I had an idea that I thought was going to be my next big sale, and that it was an idea about a virus that went, it was a comedy thing, but it was this idea where it was sort of based on the idea that Christmas is getting longer and longer every year, where people put up their lights in decorations sooner and sooner, and you start seeing the stuff for sale in October or whatever. And so I was like, oh, it felt like Christmas was a virus that was slowly taking over the world. And I was like, what if it’s a zombie movie, but Christmas is the virus? And so it was sort of a Christmas apocalypse thing where Christmas takes over the world and one family didn’t get infected and had to fight back.

So I was like, this is going to be a big seller. And then I was like, and then Covid hit, and it was like nobody wanted to buy a thing about a virus taking over the world, so I literally spent the pandemic. To answer your question, I wrote it as a novel. Instead, I wrote it as a middle grade novel, a y, a novel. Did you publish it? Not yet. We’re trying. So we’re out to publishers, and it took a while to figure out literary agents, which are very different world and everything, but the idea is to hopefully sell it as a book and then be able to adapt it as a feature. But yeah, it was so fun to write, and it was so freeing to not be stuck in 110 pages and to, I mean, I already had the whole thing outlined from the pitch when I was going to pitch it, so I knew the structure of it, so I just kept it as the structure of a movie, but I expanded on it and got more into the character’s heads and that kind of stuff.

But I had such a fun time writing that, and I was just like, man, someday when the work dries up, I am going to look forward to writing novels instead. And oh, yeah. The funny thing is when you describe the literary word going out to publishers, it’s not that different from Hollywood. You think It is. It’s not. It’s the same hell. Oh, absolutely. But you and I haven’t had to deal with breaking into Hollywood in a long time. And then in the literary world, they’re like, oh, you’ve written movies. We don’t care. We don’t care at all. So it’s starting over. And U T A tried to help a little bit, but they’re like, we don’t really know what to do. And then, so it’s, I’ve been, my manager has been introducing me to editors and stuff, literary editors, and they’ve been really receptive, and it’s been good trying to find the right one and the person I jive with. But it’s very much like, oh, you’re starting from scratch all over again. And for less money, no money. I mean, literally, I don’t know how you would make a living off of this. I mean, I think we’re spoiled a little bit, but what was the money they were telling you? Can you say, I don’t want to say you don’t, but it was basically about, it was less than a 10th that I would get paid on a movie.

It was about my weekly rate. So I was telling you, I do weekly jobs on movies, and it’s like if I do a weekly on a studio movie or I could sell a novel, or you could work five years on a novel, and I’m like, oh, this is not a way to support a family, but it was really fun. Someday when I’m just doing it for fun, I would love to do it. Wow, how interesting. Wow. So your best advice, because you’re not an animator, you’re not even an artist, are you? No, I don’t draw or anything. I just love animation. I just always loved animation. So I don’t know. I think when I was in seventh grade when the Simpsons started, and that blew my mind, and I was like, I remember telling my dad, I think I want to write on this. It was the first time I recognized, oh, people are writing these jokes. It was very, I think, more self-aware than most comedy was. And I was in junior high and I was just like, I want to be a writer on a show like this. I never was a writer on that show, but a bunch of other stuff.

Now, as far as directing, because I know you’re attached to possibly direct this project, where does your confidence come from that to direct? I mean, I don’t know if I have confidence in it. I mean, I would want to co-direct it. In animation, you often get paired with another, if you’re a writer, you’d get paired with an experienced animation director who comes from the visual side. So either an animator or a store wear artist or visual development artist. And I just feel like some of the projects I’ve been doing, you sort of act as more than just a writer anyway. You’re sort of meeting with the creative heads all the time, making these big decisions that affect the projects. And at a certain point, I’m like, well, if I write something, that project that I, that’s at life that I was attached to, it probably won’t even happen at this point.

It’s been a few years, and it’s kind of sitting there waiting for Travis to decide if he wants to make it. But it was a personal project to me, and it was like this would be the one that I was like, I would really want to see this all the way through. And I’m sure at that studio at this point, he’s, Travis himself who runs the studio, is kind of directing all the latest projects anyway, so I would be co-directing with him. And so he would really be in charge, and I would just be, they’re up in Seattle, right? Portland? Yeah, Portland or in Portland, yeah. So do you go up there a lot for Yeah, when I’m on a project, so usually it’s like if I’m just writing it before it’s green lit, which is most of the time I’ll just fly up there for meetings just to get launched or whatever, and then go back up after I turn it in to get notes. But if it’s in production on box trolls, and then there’s another upcoming one that I did a bunch of production work on, they’ll fly me up there to work with the board artists and stuff. And that’s a crazy, that place is so nice.

It’s like a wonderland. I mean, it’s like this giant warehouse downstairs that they have all the stages and they’re all covered with black velvet rope, I mean black velvet curtains. So to keep all the light out and everything. And that’s where they’re moving all the puppets and everything, the stop motion. And then upstairs it’s like the offices, and it just feels like a corporate office building with cubicles and stuff. It’s very weird. But you go downstairs and it’s like there’s people animating, there’s this huge warehouse where they’re building all the props and they’re like armature section where they’re adding all the skeletal armature to the You never went with us to, because Kapa was like that in a cup of coffee in Toronto when we did Glen Martin. Yeah, it was amazing though. Similar. But Kapa is doing it on a budget, and these guys are spending so much money, it’s not a viable way to make money to make these animated stop motion animated movies.

They don’t do it to make money. He does it. He loves it. Oh, really? Oh my gosh. Yeah, because Travis Knight is the son of Phil Knight who’ve gone to Nike, so he’s got sort of a lot of money, and it’s his hobby shoe money. He’s got shoe money, but he is a brilliant animator. He is a super smart, interesting dude who wants to make things that are different than anybody else. And so it’s an amazing place to work because nowhere else do you ever have the conversation of like, oh, we could do this if we wanted to do it, where more people would see it, or we could do it this way, which is cool and we want to do this. It’s fun and weird.

Not that he doesn’t care about an audience, he does care about an audience, but it’s not most important to him is making something that’s awesome to him for the art. And so it’s a very different way of looking at things. But I’ve been in situations there where it’s like we’re doing upstairs, doing a rewrite with me and the director changing the whole third act or whatever, and then I go downstairs and just tour the stages and the workshops, and I’ll meet a puppeteer who’s like building this giant puppet who’s telling me this is the biggest puppet that’s ever been created in Stop motion, and here’s the 17 different places where I can articulate it. And I’m just thinking like, dude, we cut that yesterday upstairs. Oh no. And he’s been working on it for a month. Oh, no. But I can’t say anything. I’m just sort of like, oh, yeah, that’s awesome.

It’s so great. You’re doing great work. Anyway, I’m going to get back upstairs. That’s so heartbreaking. But they burn through so much money just doing it all by hand. It’s so crazy. But it’s so beautiful, so I love it. And so you were literally upstairs, they gave you a small office and you just start typing? Yeah, that’s literally, I mean, usually when I’m there, it’s like they just put me in some random cubicle that nobody else is using or it’s not a cubicle, a little office that is or whatever, somebody office. And you’ll stay there for a few days or a few weeks or what? Yeah, exactly. Depending on how much they need me. So it either be a few days or a few weeks. And then on box rolls, I was up there. I would be up there for a week, relining some stuff, and then I’d come back home for two weeks and write those pages up.

And I mean, I’d be writing in the evenings after the meetings and stuff too, while I was up there. But when we are rewriting, it’s a train that’s moving and it’s like the track is you’re running on a track and you got to keep pressure. What did you think of staying there in Portland? Did you like it? I did it. It’s hard because my family’s here and life is here, but if that movie had gone that I was attached to Coder Act, we were planning on moving there for that for three or four years. That’s how it would take. Interesting. Would you have sold your house here or just rented it out? I’d have rented it out, I think. Interesting. Yeah, you, it was like we were having all these conversations, and then it’s the longer it goes, we’re like, that’s probably not going to happen.

We don’t have to think about this right now. How interesting. That’s so key. It really takes that long, man. Oh yeah. They’re so long. And then also, it’s like there is this weird thing in animation where it’s not uncommon for a movie to go through two or three directors over the course of its many years in production. So it’s like, why? I know. Just because they’re beasts. And sometimes in the same way that you’re changing the story so many times over the years, sometimes you make such a drastic change that it’s no longer the vision of that director, and it’s just not a right fit anymore. And I’ve seen that happen on a lot of movies that I’ve been on. I mean, Boxtrolls didn’t end up with the same two directors that it started with. One of the two stayed on it, but the other one didn’t.

Oh, no, this sounds very frustrating to me. It sounds It does. And then other movies up there have gone through different directors, and so I was like, even if I had gotten hired as the director, I was in the back of my head. I always knew this might not last even if I’ll do my best and I’ll try to make it work. But you haven’t even started and you’re finding I’m being fired. Yeah, totally. But I mean, it’s a weird thing. It’s not TV where you’re on a show for a year and then hopefully you get the second year if you get one. It’s like in movies, they fire and hire different writers all the time, and so directors less, but writers, it really is pretty common. I’ve been on both sides of it where it’s like, I used to take it really harder, fired off a movie.

You’re like, oh my God, did they not like the draft? I did. And usually it’s like, no, we liked it, but now there’s a director on it and they want to take a different direction. Or Oh, the director has a friend that they want to work with that they work with as a writer. Or other times I’ve been that guy that a director has brought on to rewrite somebody else, and I always try to be super nice about it. Now that I’ve seen both sides of it, I always try to reach out to the previous writer and be like, Hey, I just want you to know it’s in good hands. Or sometimes if I’m the one that’s fired, I reach out, be like, Hey, if you want to know where the skeletons are buried, happy to get in lunch with you. Just to be like, here’s the pitfalls to look out for.

This is where people don’t realize that people on the outside just don’t realize what it’s actually like when you’re the writer. You’re a successful working writer. And I think they have a very different vision of the reality of a hundred percent. I didn’t know the job was, I thought the job was going to be writing the whole time. Most of the job is it’s playing politics with the studio and the executives and the director and Well, what do you mean politics, getting navigating the notes? What do you mean? Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s like the notes, but also the personalities. It’s like a lot of the job I feel like is to go in and to make everybody feel comfortable with where you’re taking it. Because you walk into a room and sometimes you could feel like, oh, the director thinks they’re making a very different movie than the head of development thinks.

Then that’s different than what the producer thinks. And that’s different than what the head of the studio thinks. It’s like I’ve been in a room where it’s like Jeffrey Katzenberg is just like, guys, guys, guys, you’re all thinking about this all wrong. And you just have to be like, okay, how can I find solutions that makes everybody happy, that make everybody happy? And that’s a huge part of the job. I mean, honestly, when I did the Lego rewriting with Phil and Chris, that’s what the whole job was, was just like, how do I make Warner Brothers who didn’t know what they had? They thought it was a toy commercial. They were very skeptical of the whole thing, Phil and Chris, who wanted to make some beautiful art. And it was cool with cool ideas. And Lego Corporation who wanted to make a toy commercial and Lucasfilm who didn’t want their characters to be in it, and DC who didn’t know whether they should be or not.

And you’re just like, how do I get in a room? And and usually if you come up with a great gag or great joke that articulates the, that illuminates the tone of the thing. So they all go, oh, okay. That’s the thing. So the round of notes, like you’re saying, oh, it’s incredible, but for everybody and everyone’s got conflicting. I don’t even know walking into that job, and all I care about is I don’t want my friends, Phil and Chris to think I fucked up their movie because they’re trusting me just so I keep it moving. But I would think even for them, it’s like, how do I get this movie made when I have so many competing notes and to their credit account, great, but still that is a hundred percent to their credit, they have a genius ability to, not only are they great writers and great directors, I think more than that, they have this sense of how to make everybody in a room think that the ideas came from them.

It’s like, yeah, they’re great at, they’ll go into a room, I think sometimes having some ideas in their pocket, but it feels like the room came up with the ideas together, and then everybody’s like, yes, we did it. Pat ourselves on the back. And everybody, the executives’ seem happy. But sometimes it actually does come out that, I mean, those brainstorm sessions really do create a new idea, and sometimes it’s them trusting the process that that’s going to work out. And sometimes I think they literally are like, well, we can go this way or this way, but I know it’ll be easier if they think they had the idea. So let’s go this way for now. And then later they know it’s going to change a thousand times anyway in the storyboards, and then they could figure it out for real later. Because all these see people like that.

They’re very well paid, but in my opinion, they’re earning every penny of this a hundred percent. They’re earning every, it’s not that easy. This job, I feel like I’ve gotten better over the years where I’ve taken my ego out of it. I used to have a much bigger ego, you might remember, but I feel like I can be, now, I can just go in a room and be like, I’m just going to try to help. I’m just going to be like, how could I make everybody feel comfortable? How can I make everybody feel like we’re on the right page together and create this thing? I know that it’s like the process is going to take years and years, and the relationship is more important than the individual story note or whatever. It’s like that’s what’s going to matter over the long term of this project.

It’s that we all trust each other and that we can make something great together. And that’s more important than fighting for a joke or fighting for a story moment or a take, or even exactly, either. It’s about fighting the relationship, and I’ve said this before, it’s about the relationship is the most important thing, and sometimes you have to sacrifice what you think is the best story, the best moment for the greater good of the relationship. A hundred percent. A hundred percent. Wow. I feel like this has been eyeopening even for me, and I feel like my eyes are fucking opened. You know what I’m saying?

We’ve done some movie work, but obviously we work mostly in tv, but the movie side, the movie side was never really appealing. I remember because we shared the same agent for our futures, and I remember he gave us a conversation. I was like, I dunno if I want to work in movies again. It’s weird. It sounds hard. It’s different because in TV you’re the boss, right? I mean, when you’re the showrunner, you’re the boss. Yeah. You’ve been there for a long time. And in movies, you’re never the boss. I mean, I gave up on, I mean, before I worked with you, there was one TV show I ran and I co ran with my friend Tim, and we were the bosses, and I hated it. I did not enjoy it. It was like all the meetings and all the decisions and the budgets and the interpersonal relationships and all that stuff.

I was like, I was not good at it back then, and I don’t know if I’d be better now, and I just was like, you know what? I just want to be part of a team and I want to be a writer. And it’s like in movies, that’s what you are. You’re just part of this big team in a different way. I mean, I guess when you’re a staff writer or coming up through the ranks and tv, you’re part of a team too, but you can be like, you’re also a much more integral part of the team, the one writer on it at the time. Or in movies, you’re like, when you’re the writer, you’re the writer and they all look to you for that one job. Or if you’re on a staff when I’m on a show with you or whatever, you might look to me for one type of, it’s very different. I’m a cog in this room.

It’s never, you never have to be a hundred percent on your A game every day for you can showing it in a little bit coast. Wow. Adam Paval, what an interesting conversation. This is enlightening for me. Very enlightening. Yeah, man. Are you having everybody on from the old days, Brian? Well, I had Alex Berger on a while ago. We talked a little bit about that script that you guys wrote together. Well, there’s two things on Glen Martin. You were always pestering me to do a musical. Yeah, I think, I don’t know how to write a musical. And you’re like, this is why I’ve work in animated features. I’ve written three musicals since I, so lemme let you do the movie. I was like, dude, I don’t know how to do so go ahead and knock yourself out. That was fun. And then you guys came back with that Christmas episode. I thought you guys both hit it out of the park. I was like, let’s shoot it, let’s shoot it.

I think it took, because that was all second year stuff and it took a little bit of time to figure out tonally what we were doing and then just to get a little crazier. And then, I mean, those episodes were like, yeah, I could be a little bit more myself of writing the weird stuff that I wanted. I mean, the other one I remember fondly is that weird Funshine episode. Was that the musical one or was that, I don’t remember. Dude, fun cine was, it was like the planned community in Florida that was basically celebration Florida and they all realized that everybody was on being drugged and were lactating out of their breast and all that. Oh, that’s right. Now I remember the guy, there was a scene where there’s a pregnant man or something. It was fucking nuts. And I was like, oh, now we’re writing the show that I could write.

The first year, I think it was a little bit more like I was a little square pa in a round hole where it was like I didn’t have a family at the time and it was a family show. It was about a dad and a mom trying to navigate their crazy kids and I was like, I don’t know what the fuck. Crazy in that show. It’s a shame. We didn’t do more seasons. We weren’t nuts. It was fun. It was a fun time. For sure. I got some of the puppies right over there, so see, yeah, I got the one you gave me of me that one from the college episode. Oh right, the college episode. That’s right. We put you in. You ran the gauntlet I think, didn’t you? I think that, yeah, that’s exactly right. Funny. Yeah, funny. Adam, Papa, where can people, is there anything want, we can plug people, find you.

Are you on social media? Is there anything? I’m not super active. I’m on Twitter. You can find me on Twitter. Adam Papa or Adam or whatever it’s called now. X X, I’m on X, but don’t really, I’m not super active on it. I don’t have anything to plug. Everything’s going to come out in four years. Yeah, right. Yeah. Look for Adam Papa in four years when something drops to the movies. That’s the process. Dude, thank you again so much for doing this. This was a really interesting conversation. I haven’t talked yet, spoken to anybody about this kind of stuff. You are a wealth of information. Alright. Yeah, it’s fine. Everyone, thank you so much. Until the next episode drops, which will be next week. Keep writing.

Phil Hudson:

This has been an episode of Screenwriters Need to Hear this with Michael Jamin and Phil Hudson. If you’re interested in learning more about writing, make sure you register for Michael’s monthly webinar @michaeljamin.com/webinar. If you found this podcast helpful, consider sharing it with a friend and leaving us a five star review on iTunes. For free screenwriting tips, follow Michael Jamin on social media @MichaelJaminwriter. You can follow Phil Hudson on social media @PhilaHudson. This podcast was produced by Phil Hudson. It was edited by Dallas Crane Music by Ken Joseph. Until next time, keep writing.

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Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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