Q & A with Michael Jamin

Michael Jamin has been a television writer/showrunner for the past 25 years. His many credits include King of the Hill, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Beavis & Butthead, and Tacoma FD. He’s currently working on a collection of personal essays to be published in 2021. Some of them can be read on michaeljamin.com

What’s the last thing you read or watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

I thought the show Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge was a masterpiece. She wrote one soliloquy towards the end of the series that made me want to stand up and applaud.

I’ve also been re-reading David Sedaris’ works. To me, his writing is like watching a magic trick. When you finally arrive at the end of one of his pieces, you ask yourself, “How did he get me here?” It’s just so lovely. When people read a good book, they often say, “I couldn’t put it down.” But I put his books down all the time. I’ll read a particularly poignant passage, or beautifully craft line, and stop reading for a few moments just to admire it.

Were you always a writer, or was it something you eventually discovered you had a knack for?

In high school and college, I very much enjoyed writing, but I wasn’t a good writer. I was funny, but I didn’t yet understand story structure so my writing lacked cohesion and purpose. Even though I studied under some very talented authors, I don’t think they knew how to convey this. They just wrote from the gut, and because their talent level was so high, their writing was very engaging. It wasn’t until I got work as a staff writer in television that I really started started to learn about structure, and that can applied to so many different mediums.

How’d you get your start in the industry?

A year or so after moving to Hollywood to follow my dream of being a sitcom writer, I met a guy who would eventually become my writing partner.  For a couple of years, we worked every night and weekend to assemble a good collection of spec scripts. Probably close to a dozen. Eventually we landed on the writing staff of Just Shoot Me and we’ve worked steadily ever since.

What do you consider the components of a good script?

Even in comedy, it’s not about the jokes or funny situations. It’s all about story and how engaging you can make it. Until the audience can identify the three main components of every story, the writer is just wasting their time… daring them to find something better to do.

What are some of the most common writing mistakes you see?

Most new writers don’t really understand what makes a story. They think they understand, but if you ask them to define what a story is in one clear sentence, they’re at a loss. It’s a difficult question!  But if you can’t define it accurately, you’re never going to be able write one on a consistent basis.

What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

It’s not so much tropes that bother me as it is tired old cliches. In comedy rooms, we call them clams. They’re jokes that have been floating around the zeitgeist and you’ve heard a million times. “Asking for a friend.” “Said no one ever.”  Those are clams. You see them on dopey friends Facebook posts. That’s fine for them, because they’re not writers. But if you want to be a writer, then your job is to create new things to say, not transcribe old ones.

What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?

Start the story sooner.

Raise the stakes.

What’s the story really about?

Does the idea have enough weight to be a story?

Do your act breaks pop?

What are your thoughts about writing a spec script for an already-existing show as opposed to a totally new and original pilot?

When I’m staffing for a show, I much prefer reading scripts for existing shows. Writing an original pilot is very hard, and it requires a completely different skill set from writing a spec for an existing show and it’s a skill set that I’m not really looking for. I don’t care if you can create an entire world. I want to know if you can write a compelling script for characters who already exist.

Have you ever read a spec script that immediately told you “this writer gets it”. If so, what were the reasons why?

Most spec scripts from new writers are mediocre. And these are writers who are good enough to land representation. But there’s no demand in Hollywood for mediocre writers. If the story doesn’t start quickly enough, or that first act break doesn’t pop, I’ll put down the script and pick up another one. That may seem unfair, but viewers are no different. If they’re not engaged by the story, they’ll click the remote and find a story that does engage them. I’ve got a huge pile of scripts to read and one of them will be great. I decided to hire one new writer without even finishing the script. I could tell he knew what he was doing.

How can people find out more about you and the services you provide?

I’ve been a sitcom writer and showrunner for 25 years. A friend of mine who is an aspiring writer had been begging me to create an online course, but I just didn’t have the time. When the pandemic hit, that excuse went out the window. So I spent a few months creating an online screenwriting course. This is everything I wish I had when I was trying to break in. If anyone is interested, the first 3 lessons are free.

You can also follow me on social media:
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/MichaelJaminWriter/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/michaeljaminwriter
Twitter:    @MJaminWriter

Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Speaking of tropes, there’s nothing more familiar than the standard apple. But it works, so why are we trying to improve on it?

Another trove of more treasures

As the lockdown continues, here are some works of your fellow creatives to help you pass the time – plus an informative opportunity for aspiring TV and webseries writers. Take a gander at the offerings below.

The Arab Messiah

Jeff Naparstek

Book [via Kindle]

Historical Fiction

A young woman on an archaeological expedition brings the past back to life with the resurrection of an ancient Pharaoh.

Into the Black, A Sci-Fi Mystery (Janey McCallister Mystery, Book 1)

Beth Barany

Book

Sci-Fi Mystery

Anything goes at Bijoux de L’Étoile space station casino—until theft turns to murder and first-time lead investigator Janey McCallister must find the killer before he escapes into the black.

Page Turner Awards eBook Finalist

The Joy of Self-Publishing 101 Kept Secrets

Diana Mugano

Book [paperback & Kindle]

Inspirational

If you need reasons why you should publish your book look no further. This book will answer your questions. All the best on your journey of publishing a book! And do not forget life always offers maybe even when you cannot clearly see the possibilities in front of you, keep your writing alive!

Liam McPhee and The Thief of Laughter

Marlena Evangeline

Book

Young Adult Fantasy

The rugged shores of Scotland in the 1800s, with its highlands and heaths serve as a backdrop for the inviting faerie-tale like story of Liam McPhee, an eleven year old hero that faces an array of almost insurmountable challenges in a young adult fantasy designed to attract all ages of readers.

liammcphee.com

The book comes out on Nov 1, so here’s a link for preordering.

Wedgie & Gizmo

Suzanne Selfors

Book

Middle Grade

The story of a blended family, as told from the alternating and singularly distinctive voices of the family pets: a deluded evil genius guinea pig named GIZMO, and his happy-go-lucky rival, an equally deluded Welsh Corgi called WEDGIE.

Amazon Best Book of the Month

Kinsane Entertainment

Webinar for TV writers – TV and Web Series Creators

Terry McFadden

Your written pitch document is usually the deciding factor that determines if your show will be bought. How is yours fresh, different, comprehensive and most of all you? Details in the link.   https://scriptwritersnetwork.com/events/pitching-you-in-your-written-pitch-document-for-tv/

Calling all creatives!

Since it worked so well a few months ago, I thought it would be nice to once again offer creators (which includes writers, filmmakers, artists, and so forth) the chance to present their materials to as wide an audience as I can provide.

The master list will be posted on Friday, October 2nd – ONLY ONE LISTING PER PERSON!

And with the holiday season just around the corner, what better gift to give than something that helps support your fellow creatives?

So if you’ve got a book, a film, a webseries, a comic or webcomic, or pretty much any other kind of finished and ready-for-public-consumption product, this is your chance to put the word out.

If you and your project were among those listed last time, you’re more than welcome to be included again, but it would also be great to see some new material added into the mix.

And for all the screenwriters wondering when it’s their turn, a post that’s all about scripts will be taking place in late October or early November, so keep an eye out for that announcement in a few weeks.

Here’s how it works:

Email the following info with the subject Maximum Z Creative Project Post to paul.zeidman@gmail.com

Title of your work

Your name

Format (book, film, etc)

Genre

Logline

Awards (if applicable)

A link where people can access this material, and/or to your website (if applicable)

Any questions? Let me know.

A treasure trove of creative riches

smaug gif

With sheltering-in-place still a thing, this is a great opportunity to discover and enjoy some amazing works across a wide spectrum of mediums.

Settle in and take a look. There’s a lot to choose from today.

Added bonus – several of the featured creators have also been interviewed on this very blog, so a link to each of their Q&As is also provided.

Enjoy!

Marilyn Anderson
How To Live Like A Millionaire When You’re A Million Short – book
https://www.amazon.com/Live-MILLIONAIRE-Youre-Million-Short-ebook/dp/B06XWZFNRY/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8&fbclid=IwAR3GqZdJFtV8ftEqH6V3pc2NxpxJCS7TwWZSHaSPOS4P8TnlRF-jMGSh7so
AND
How To Beat A Bully – film
https://www.amazon.com/How-Beat-Bully-Pearce-Joza/dp/B016DMY16M?fbclid=IwAR0ery6kikBDlZDwfGXV62WGIVIc05lkAcq-1T0c6DiSwLaysHia9n5RhqQ

Steve Altes
Geeks & Greeks – graphic novel
https://www.amazon.com/Geeks-Greeks-Steve-Altes/dp/0996350446/?fbclid=IwAR2kgIue5ev9gE86QyOsUdTH6bIjZ07JyQpV2mnYEBF8tJT0N41jptpzdEU

Tracee Beebe
The Rise & Shine Show – motivational live video feed
https://www.facebook.com/RiseShineMorningShow/?hc_location=ufi

Q & A with Tracee Beebe

Gregory Blair
The Ritual (Part 1) – book
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005955G1Y?fbclid=IwAR0stm9XLgcs_m6yfHJVNnSZ2lskN3ICM8yAqTbXYuI7apD2NSlHHJz1pUg

Lois Buchter
Gerti’s War: A Journal of Life Inside the Wehrmacht – book
https://www.amazon.com/Gertis-War-Journal-Inside-Wehrmacht/dp/0997510846/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=gerti%27s%20war&qid=1590531435&sr=8-1&fbclid=IwAR2wGp8aRp4s2ZSPbiJya7WLpIb1H0nr3Cdze50a9kbADgxhpae7sFxnnMw

Geoffrey Calhoun
The Guide For Every Screenwriter: From Synopsis to Subplots: The Secrets of Screenwriting Revealed
https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Every-Screenwriter-Synopsis-Screenwriting-ebook/dp/B07R92L1N1/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=geoffrey+calhoun&qid=1590599973&sr=8-1

Q & A with Geoffrey Calhoun and one about the book

Howard Casner
The Starving Artists and Other Stories: Nine stories of sci-fi and the supernatural – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ?fbclid=IwAR1LKXLOuZ61r0wB2vl3N2RGO1qg4j4-CUTjJ_Pr3pUvaIiQNzIJbEHrkP4
AND
The Five Corporations And One True Church – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF?fbclid=IwAR1v1XvJ6ZeVv79i66EtG6lNOfutzAgMY_LkYM5OkZCQkGk3zPpjofuq3Hs

Q & A with Howard Casner

Steve Cleary
ManHeat – microbudget webseries
A screenwriter takes his filmmaking career into his own hands and started a microseries about action film cliches that’s seen a steady increase in production values
https://www.facebook.com/storbangfanpage/playlist/2385554318362169/

Brian Fitzpatrick
Mechcraft – YA book
Sci-fi nanotech thriller – “The Matrix meets Harry Potter”
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079HTG6C6?fbclid=IwAR1ElBGEPvlJ8y_s9GQaO501D9WTlUoENm8Nwews3zW0XXMo5IiLTY4mJR0

Clint Ford
Cope – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/149433111X/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_7deZEbAMMETKD?fbclid=IwAR3_0IrhUFAarQyE1h9gdJF6jg97J4iS2-Urrwip1Z-nsDmh5jOxOnQWk7Y

Jimmy George, Jamie Nash & Bob Rose
Writers/Blockbusters – screenwriting podcast
Examining blockbuster films through the lens of writing
https://thundergrunt.com/category/writersblockbusters/

Q & A with Jimmy George

Randy Gordon-Gaticahttps://www.instagram.com/rggatica/
The Magic Bomb – film
https://vimeo.com/ondemand/themagicbomb

Jay Harez
Collection of horror and thriller books
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jayharez?fbclid=IwAR0yuD_-jYBdbe01lUOaR2Icm28fJk8IVIHbrXxvqYIazgTgkT1PBMBSVsE

Phil Hawkins
Star Wars: Origins – short film
A critically acclaimed fanfilm that combines the worlds of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. The saga we know, the origins we don’t.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVSox0qApO4&feature=youtu.be

Jason Henderson
Young Captain Nemo book series
Jason recently signed a deal with Kinsane Entertainment to develop the books as an animated series, mobile games, consumer products and more for worldwide release.
Young Captain Nemo
https://www.amazon.com/Young-Captain-Nemo-Jason-Henderson/dp/1250173221/ref=sr_1_1crid=2M2M8J5BQYIQJ&dchild=1&keywords=young+captain+nemo&qid=1590698680&sprefix=yougn+captain%2Caps%2C200&sr=8-1
Quest For The Nautilus: Young Captain Nemo
https://www.amazon.com/Quest-Nautilus-Young-Captain-Nemo/dp/1250173248/ref=sr_1_2 crid=2M2M8J5BQYIQJ&dchild=1&keywords=young+captain+nemo&qid=1590699109&sprefix=yougn+captain%2Caps%2C200&sr=8-2

Brannon Hollingsworth
Silent Night, Lady White (Wyrdwar) – book
https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Night-Lady-White-Wyrdwar-ebook/dp/B0834GRN3L/

Ann Kimbrough
The 100 Script Challenge Journal: A Journal for Screenwriters
https://www.amazon.com/dp/153708318X/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_vYlZEbWAMCB9M?fbclid=IwAR0wRXKP2b5DoFHKPFHAF6dLOdnjzn_uYrCu3e_PzpHeTC4OpWOboIss0lE

Q & A with Ann Kimbrough (and her equally amazing writing partner James Moorer)

David Lake
Tears of Glass – thriller novel
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01CHTF3HQ

Tracy Stone Lawson
Counteract: A YA Dystopia Thriller (The Resistance Series Book 1)
(first volume is a free download; whole series of 4 for $2.97)
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07J5NS9F5/ref=nodl_?fbclid=IwAR3NeRR0-3Z_73bWfEg98qiWbtQQbzhVol9V_KVlSRhMrEMXnZaY4hEz6FU

Chris Mancini & Fernando Pinto
Rise of the Kung-Fu Dragon Master – graphic novel crowdfunding project
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/whitecatent/new-2020-rise-of-the-kung-fu-dragon-master-vol-1/description

Q & A with Chris Mancini

Ellen Matzer
Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ellen-matzer/nurses-on-the-inside-stories-of-the-hivaids-epidem/

Alicia McClendon
Wing Chun – short film
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bt228HohbOE&feature=youtu.be

Sean McDonough
Collection of horror books
https://www.amazon.com/Sean-McDonough/e/B07SJWGX6M/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1?fbclid=IwAR3d5kRzKL9kjwaiBd0CDiDJ4UfshxGbtCRBqQXuhDjjGX1Xjj6lJeBj1MY

Jim Mercurio
The Craft of Scene Writing: Beat by Beat to a Better Script – screenwriting
https://www.amazon.com/Craft-Scene-Writing-Better-Script/dp/1610353307/?fbclid=IwAR0wRXKP2b5DoFHKPFHAF6dLOdnjzn_uYrCu3e_PzpHeTC4OpWOboIss0lE

Q & A with Jim Mercurio and one about the book 

Josh Mitchell
Stand By Me (Revisited) – song
https://soundcloud.com/mitchwickid/stand-by-me-revisited?fbclid=IwAR01kCtiU359sQZJ7mevOhf9gDgiKy3LTjlthm0-J7foXkB57Cw_pImDM6w

M. J. Moore
Mario Puzo: An American Writer’s Quest – biography
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/mj-moore/mario-puzo/
https://www.amazon.com/Mario-Puzo-American-Writers-Quest/dp/1942762631?fbclid=IwAR1aTbdr7QqF6tE3tMb6tyuZ4gCXhZXWZ7yws1eWc39abQ8M9TLvusjY0Cc

Annie Morgan
Complicated: The Zephyr Collection: Book One
https://smile.amazon.com/dp/1393683932/?fbclid=IwAR2-6ILJb6VxvMg-JhH9xbkUeIJoZeELcMQ25d2vVHLhoyTJnr8oI9IJgDw

Jeff Neparstek
Borrowed Time – book
https://www.amazon.com/Borrowed-Time-Jeff-Naparstek-ebook/dp/B01AA9KDZW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1484175499&sr=8-2&keywords=Jeff%20Naparstek&fbclid=IwAR2n5iYy9jsgCDAi2ZjVcuKX1DUWddeVjJT6Z4OO5RxeStWN-KAVku2lA9k
AND
The Arab Messiah – book
https://www.amazon.com/Arab-Messiah-Jeff-Naparstek-ebook/dp/B01AAOHW5Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1484175499&sr=8-1&keywords=Jeff%20Naparstek&fbclid=IwAR3UtO0g6kI68nh4sqU1a7VFjIFMqmQw5SLeWX-TojJyv_8WCfXM-XvvnmI

Robert People
A Walk On Mars – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1466458313?fbclid=IwAR3WFOvITpvhcAugwPXAx5hrYbXgFe1kQSoVDo4OLkWVnfo2_Ww0SVx2yxk
A Walk On Mars 2: Overtime – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1470187388?fbclid=IwAR0u-7rltbLP6m_KLG65GPU6ggiSuM_h6ta98qbanujKCbt43iCJtENFd8A
Blowing Through The Jasmine – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/148184573X?fbclid=IwAR12lBLXqWjL6W5aiz50UsMuwj9Gcexmmwz_vGdyPT_-nny6knTnAB1MHyY
Sellout– book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1729732372?fbclid=IwAR3JAT2k6n-HyUzByFIanRdeJL2mBRuy-hwZwTuDm06x2VEU-QDRs7POCyA
Sold Out – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/109928533X?fbclid=IwAR293eZo5oayPWXzo6DQjg7qZeCZTjZW_ZNgUnSnT0ZH1KGvfhxcewS4CYE
The Basics (And A Little More) Of Writing A Book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08924GD52?fbclid=IwAR3ZLgCHR0u7VAiVA5j5GcdgZ_iOIlrQneZWCL7JV82xEsV_d1G7xQUGU9I

Jackie Perez
Beachworld – sci-fi/horror short film – authorized adaptation of Stephen King short story of the same name
“Stranded crew on an alien planet covered in dunes. Locating their ship’s emergency beacon is their only hope, but when a salvage crew answers their distress signal, it’s already too late.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd7HeWs0jVQ&feature=youtu.be

Hudson Phillips
After The Fall: A post-apocalyptic anthology inspired by the universe of This World Alone – book
https://www.amazon.com/After-Fall-post-apocalyptic-anthology-inspired/dp/B088VR6L87/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=FNT09EKN4KWMYMRJPGPH&fbclid=IwAR2vHP5fmHHhEZt3U2F9tC2484s-BcFK84cVS7XmS2w95cx54y3mN6utYSU&linkCode=sl1&tag=styocaus0e-20&linkId=b93767ca505cf1c60c046621718768f7&language=en_US

Dr. Sapna Ramnani
Lockdown – a documentary in pre-production seeking contributors
https://eu.jotform.com/form/200975116787060

Renfield Rasputin
In Defense Of Our Good Name – short story
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CMMFKYW/ref=cm_sw_r_apa_i_rhbZEb3840CS1?fbclid=IwAR1x29n6ly37Yuvu4Egtx5pkYAO2Gkx7Clhjksn8-SMWwsSQmxdUesRDDDA

Bob Saenz
That’s Not The Way It Works: A no-nonsense guide to the craft and business of screenwriting
https://www.amazon.com/Thats-Not-Way-Works-screenwriting/dp/1734347910/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1575403713&sr=8-1&fbclid=IwAR0TRWlRzoxneFNgyuP22hqJRBeErgHy0fvpG6UqqnWE5hYe-W-A6niDbf0

Q & A with Bob Saenz

Roman Scott
Tone Poems and Nightmare Fuel – blog
https://tonepoemsandnightmarefuel.wordpress.com/

Travis Seppala
365: A Year of Screenwriting Tips
https://www.amazon.com/365-Year-Screenwriting-Travis-Seppala/dp/1725810972/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3AY6WYU9SKJLD&dchild=1&keywords=travis+seppala&qid=1590599648&sprefix=TRAVIS+SEPPALA%2Caps%2C205&sr=8-1

Q & A with Travis Seppala

Justin Sloan
Prime Evil
https://www.amazon.com/Prime-Evil-Justin-Sloan-ebook/dp/B087YKY5SV?fbclid=IwAR1l64MgNO_FOWlka2K2CEeF1rAsrp51LYvUvBq-gODBKXC2Ac92-d_XgYQ

Karelynn A. Spacek
Queen of Swords (A Stone Wielder’s Legacy Trilogy) – book
An epic journey revolving around a sunken island, and a new queen that prefers archery over politics.
https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Swords-Wielders-Legacy-Trilogy/dp/B086Y3ZWQF/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=9798630009722&linkCode=qs&qid=1589933088&s=books&sr=1-1

Dan Stout
The Carter Archives – book
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/series/3CA/the-carter-archives/?fbclid=IwAR2iisl3XP2kXPH1R4PXHe2LZfY21ORydTdLRbiIPf7MoDH7MkbxdjKDyRE

Chip Street
Rocket Summer – novel
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1480202622?fbclid=IwAR2i4B62oDUO-dCGkIPCk9Z4jPbYEJVfBcrsncvMCaS7OJR80x7Pv0P3Bg4
AND
21 Things You Need to Know About Screenplay Options: The Indie Screenwriter’s Guide to Protecting Yourself and Getting the Best Deal
https://www.amazon.com/Things-Need-About-Screenplay-Options-ebook/dp/B07J1L5QLB/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?ie=UTF8&fbclid=IwAR0TRWlRzoxneFNgyuP22hqJRBeErgHy0fvpG6UqqnWE5hYe-W-A6niDbf0

Timothy Trimblewww.timothytrimble.com
Air Born: Do You Dream of Flying? – book
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1536873292

Phyllis K. Twombly
The Martian Symbiont series
Been Blued – book 1
https://www.iuniverse.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/139113-Been-Blued
Martian Blues – book 2
https://www.iuniverse.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/139112-Martian-Blues
Martian Divides – book 3
https://www.iuniverse.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/146298-Martian-Divides

Larry Whatcott
Telepath – short film
https://vimeo.com/8395049?fbclid=IwAR2CLjjoaOjNNUf2pHM40_Rli8QPHr7Kx0njq7AkT7f6i97gt6SfTW942u0

Allison Chaney Whitmore
Forgot Me Not – book
https://www.amazon.com/Forget-Me-Not-Allison-Whitmore-ebook/dp/B01GL04FJO?fbclid=IwAR34qN_nGlFRQGh2nlX0ywzV0-jruUSPGyYvaoW16Tm3FQC8vSrO8ScFagg

Q & A with Alison Chaney Whitmore

Q & A with Jim Vines

Jim Vines

A Beast Is Born COVER (High Resolution) (COMPRESSED)

Jim Vines has been a screenwriter and script consultant for a number of years. His first produced film was THE PERFECT TENANT (2000). He has optioned several of his scripts and has also been commissioned to write or rewrite scripts for numerous producers. He has written a play (staged in 2009), a web series (2009), a book of interviews with screenwriters (2006), and “indie-published” his first novel in 2015. His latest book, A BEAST IS BORN, was released in 2019.

Jim, who was born in New York City but grew up in Los Angeles, and currently lives atop a hill that affords a truly inspirational view of the Hollywood sign.

What was the last thing you read/watched you considered to be extremely well-written?

I kinda hate to say this, but I don’t watch TV per se, so if you asked me to name two or three top TV shows, well, I probably couldn’t do it. But a few years ago, I thought MAD MEN was great. (I should point out the reason I don’t watch scripted TV is that I’m an avid watcher of documentaries and interview shows found on YouTube.) As for theatrical movies, I haven’t been to a new release in about eight years. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD got me back into a theater. I had high hopes for that one. All I’ll say is: I didn’t care for it.

I do a decent bit of reading and tend to go through a lot of biographies. A recent one was of Stanley Kubrick written by Vincent LoBrutto, which was pretty fascinating. I just did a re-read of Jack Kerouac’s excellent THE TOWN AND THE CITY. A few months ago I read Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH which I really enjoyed. I also finally read the Daniel Keyes novel FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, which was pretty amazing. I just finished reading Anne Tyler’s rather poignant novel A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD and wrapped up the audio-book of the classic TRUE GRIT, written by Charles Portis (who passed away recently).

As you can probably ascertain by these titles, I’m drawn to stories about people and their plights, their struggles, where they’re trying to understand where they fit in with the rest of the world. This is what I find interesting.

How’d you get your start in the industry?

It was 1994 and I had been writing scripts with the intent to sell for four or five years. I knew this low-budget producer – she really liked a thriller script I’d written, so she optioned it. She never did get the script off the ground, but at least I knew my writing was solid enough to garner interest from producers. I kept sending scripts out. A couple of years later another opportunity came my way in the form of a script assignment from a budding producer who had read some of my work a year or so before. There was no up-front money but he was pretty certain he could sell the script to a production company where he had connections. So, I wrote the script (based on his story)—and he actually got it sold!

It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the next few years, but the script was eventually produced and the movie did quite well on the cable TV circuit. It played constantly on cable and broadcast stations here in the United States and also around the world (I know this because I’d received some pretty decent foreign royalty checks, which was nice). Having this credit on my resume made getting meetings, script assignments – everything from page one rewrites to doctoring scripts- and optioning original scripts a wee bit easier.

What do you consider the components of a good script?

You need to have interesting and/or compelling characters that people will feel something for. Even if it’s a bad guy, you have to give him (or her) at least a smidgen of humanity. Look at Hans Gruber in DIE HARD. Sure, he was a cold-blooded killer – but c’mon, he had such a great sense of humor! You should have a story that continually moves forward and doesn’t get bogged down. I can’t tell you how many novice scripts I’ve read where ten pages goes by and NOTHING happens. It’s just dialogue or superfluous actions that might seem cool or interesting while you’re writing it, but has virtually nothing to do with the story being told.

What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?

-Write screenplays because you love to write and love telling stories, not because you
think you’re gonna get rich and famous. (Quick, who won the Best Screenplay Oscar last
year?)

-Writing is work—and if you’re not willing to put your rear end in a chair and your
fingers on the keyboard on pretty much of a daily basis, you probably need to find
another career path.

-Rules were meant to be broken, but first know these rules before you break them.

-Rewriting is your friend.

-Formatting isn’t what makes a script sellable. Sure, you need to get it all looking nice and proper, but the actual words you put on those 100 pages—this is what you need to focus on.

-There is no one particular way to write a screenplay. Your job is to discover the method
that works best for YOU.

-Don’t rush things. Send your scripts out only when they’re ready. As they say, you only
have one chance to make a first impression. If you send an agent or producer a script
that’s still pretty rough, chances are they won’t want to read any of your future work.

It’s my opinion—and I’ve done over 200 critiques/evaluations—that about 99% of all
novice screenplays are nowhere near marketable shape, so please, don’t write your first
two or three screenplays intending to sell them; write them merely for the purposes of
learning the craft.

What was the inspiration/motivation for your book A BEAST IS BORN?

For a long time I’ve wanted to chronicle the writing, marketing, production, and afterlife of one of my projects. I just never got around to it. But as the marketing phase of my short horror SUSIE’S BEAST script ground on, I realized I had plenty to write about: all the ups and down, all the gut-punching disappointment. I had personal journal entries (I’ve kept a daily journal since 2004) and emails relating to SUSIE’S BEAST, so I figured it was now or never. I pieced it all together and—voilà—A BEAST IS BORN!

I don’t think most pre-pro (i.e., novice) screenwriters realize how long it can take for a script to finally end up in front of a camera. Whether you’re talking about a 15-page short (which is what SUSIE’S BEAST was) or a 120-page feature, the script-to-screen voyage can take years and years. Sadly, that’s the rule and not the exception. I wanted the reader of my book to get a sense of that journey.

It took 11 years for your script to be produced, which must have really tried your patience. What was it that made you keep going?

It’s not like SUSIE’S BEAST was my entire world. I had a lot going on a personal level. As for my writing life, I was working on my first novel, writing and producing a web series, and had been getting script assignments—so I was keeping busy. Aside from all that, I knew this was a solid script that absolutely had to get made.

What were some of the takeaways/lessons you learned from the whole experience?

I’m not sure I learned much of anything I didn’t already know, but it definitely reminded me that in order to be a screenwriter you need to have a certain doggedness and faith in your own writing. I also realized I might be a little too lenient with people, giving them too much time to get things done or make up their minds. If I hadn’t been so indulgent, I probably could’ve shaved a year or two off that 11-year timeline.

Despite everything you endured trying to get SUSIE’S BEAST made, is writing (and
potentially making) a short film something you’d recommend to writers?

Getting a short film made typically will not do a whole lot for a screenwriter’s career. If the finished film makes any kind of a splash at film festivals, it might do something for the director, the actors, maybe even the director of photography. But for the writer – well, hopefully they get a fun and creative experience. That’s pretty much all I wanted out of it. Luckily, that’s what I got! But having your name on a produced short – especially if it wins some awards – can’t do you too much harm. So, yeah, go for it!

You’ve also written another Hollywood-based book—your novel LUIGI’S CHINESE
DELICATESSEN. What was the inspiration for that?

I figured my first novel should be about something I knew, so I wrote about a young guy going to Hollywood with the dream of becoming a screenwriter. The story is loosely – very loosely – based on some experiences I’ve had in this town. As I’ve mentioned in previous interviews: “The book is 97% a work of fiction—and no, I’m not telling you which three-percent is true.” It’s a fun ride, it really is. One review referred to it as a “cautionary tale,” which I think is pretty accurate!

How can people find out more about you and your work?

A BEAST IS BORN is available on Amazon. Check out Jim Vines Presents which is my “creative page” on Facebook, and my screenwriting blog The Working Screenwriter.

Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love & appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

This is a very silly question, but an excellent one. Let’s see…I’ll have to go with pecan. I love pecan pie. Pumpkin’s also pretty great, especially when it’s topped with whipped cream. But pecan pie on its own – sooooo good!