Monday, February 11, 2008
Ed Bernero, executive producer of CBS' Criminal Minds, says the show won't need to start from scratch; it already has story lines approved and drafts written from before the strike. "For us, it'll kind of be like we went home on a Friday and came back Monday, and we're up and running. We should be shooting by mid-next week."
CBS' "Criminal Minds" had one script in progress and a network-approved outline for another, said co-executive producer Chris Mundy, who cited something else that gives his show an advantage: "We didn't have to break down our sets. We're luckier than most."
"It will be all hands on deck for the writing staff," Chris Mundy, co-executive producer of the CBS drama Criminal Minds, told the Associated Press on Sunday.
He'd like to broadcast about seven episodes by the end of May. "It's a real balancing act," Mundy said, "to get up and running as fast as possible, but not let the quality slip."
Ed Bernero's letter to the fans of Criminal Minds, Feb. 11, 2007.
Dear Fanatics --
By now, most of you have heard that there's at
least an end to the strike in view. The membership
will be voting on Tuesday whether to call off the
stoppage and then, in ten days, on the acceptance of
the contract proposed. The proposed agreement our
negotiators reached with the AMPTP is not all that we
hoped it would be, but I believe it gives us important
inroads for the future of our industry.
This has been an incredibly difficult time for
everyone who works in this business and I think most
are ready to go back to work (though I do believe that
we would have stayed out much longer if need be).
There are things that happened over the last four
months I'm very proud of. There are also things that
dishearten me greatly, both in the actions of my
fellow Guild members and actions on the companies
part. There was a sense of team work within the
framework of what we, the studios and the networks
were doing that I think was harmed and is going to
take a long time to rebuild. A sense of trust that
will be hard to get back. I think, in the end, when
we look at what the companies agreed to, my biggest
question is, "Why?" Why was this stoppage necessary
to even obtain the tiniest bit of fairness?
You will hear in the coming months and years many
analyses of the strike and it's consequences,
strategies, and victories/defeats. I'm sure there
will be much discussion of how SAG staying united with
the WGA put enormous pressure on the AMPTP. How the
side deals made with smaller companies put pressure on
the larger companies. How the companies were not as
prepared for this strike as they suggested they were.
How the canceling of the Golden Globes and the
impending threat to the Oscars was the final straw.
How the DGA never would have been able to negotiate
the deal they did without the pressure put on the
AMPTP by the strike. All of this is true.
But there's something you may not hear as much in
the future that I want you to know we are acutely
aware of. You fans put equally as much pressure on
these huge, multi-national corporations. I'm
absolutely certain they NEVER expected that. You
participated loudly and often. Petitions and pencils
and drives for strike funds and auctions and letters
and phone calls and faxes. They heard you. We know
they heard you and we are eternally in your debt for
the support. Never forget that you made a difference.
In some respects, the most important difference.
While it happened across the board, fans of many
shows were involved in their own (as well as shared)
activities, the Criminal Minds Fanatics distinguished
themselves. And we aren't the only ones who noticed.
John Bowman, the Guild's Chair of Negotiations said to
me in the beginning of January, while you were in the
midst of your petition drive, "Wow -- the Criminal
Minds fans are pretty amazing." No kidding. I told
him he didn't know the half of it.
On a personal note, the money you selflessly
collected was used to help our crew members when they
needed it. Let me thank you for them. The endlessly
positive continued support on the site provided
untold comfort in the darkest days. The food you sent
to the picket line became a highlight of every day out
there. The petition reminded the people in charge
at the companies that you were not willing to just
watch anything they put out there. That you care
about this show and, especially, that you care about
the people who make it.
We are going back to work soon and we will be
making as many new episodes for this season as we can
in the time we have left. We don't know how many that
will be yet (those discussions will be ongoing and, if
we get some definitive answer, I will come back to the
board and let you all know), but we promise to work as
hard as we can to give you, our family, the show we
Thank you, thank you, thank you. As always, you
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The end of the U.S. screenwriters strike could see leading TV series return to the networks within weeks, industry sources said Sunday.
With a preparation time of four weeks for comedies and up to eight weeks for a top-notch drama, some series could be back on the air in March, assuming the striking screenwriters approve the contract their union negotiated.
If that happens — and the union has called a vote Tuesday — viewers will get between four to seven new episodes of leading shows before the summer reruns start.
"It will be all hands on deck for the writing staff," Chris Mundy, co-executive producer of the CBS drama Criminal Minds, told the Associated Press on Sunday.
He'd like to broadcast about seven episodes by the end of May. "It's a real balancing act," Mundy said, "to get up and running as fast as possible, but not let the quality slip."
If the strike ends, the Oscars may well go ahead. The future of the Feb. 24 broadcast is in doubt as long as the strike continues.
Writing the material for presenters and hosts at the gala cannot start until the strike actually ends, Academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger said.
On Sunday, leaders of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) called for a vote on Tuesday to decide whether to continue the strike while the members decide whether to approve or reject the tentative settlement reached Saturday.
The western and eastern heads of the guild have already encouraged the members to back the settlement. But in an e-mail Sunday, western president Patric Verrone said a vote on the contract could take several weeks.
"A yes vote means you are voting to end the strike immediately; a no vote means you are voting to continue the strike during the ratification process," Verrone said.
The leaders urged their members Saturday to end the three-month walkout and support a deal reached with film and television studios.
"It is not what we hoped for and not all that we deserve," Verrone said. But he and eastern leader Michael Winship warned in an e-mail that "continuing the strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks … the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike."
The strike began Nov. 5 and has forced the networks to repeat old shows or fill gaps with reality TV. The two arms of the guild, based in Los Angeles and New York, represent about 10,500 writers.
The main issue in the strike was residual payments to writers for TV shows and movies downloaded or delivered over the internet.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Case #7: Debra J. Fisher & Erica Messer
Posted on February 8, 2008 by adoptawriter
Interviews by Jill for the Criminal Minds Writers blog
While quantity isn’t always better than quality, sometimes you get very lucky and find both as is in the case of the Criminal Minds‘ writing team of Debra J. Fisher and Erica Messer. Criminal Minds‘ “Gruesome Twosome” as they are called by the cast, crew and fans of the show because they have written some of the darkest and eeriest episodes of series, have a long and successful track record of delivering quality writing for such shows as The O.C., Alias, and Charmed .
Thanks to my position as the editor of Criminal Minds Fanatic, I had the chance to interview these two writer/producers–who were once assistants on Party of Five together. Debra and Erica had a lot to say about working on CM that we didn’t have room for here, but you can read both pieces in their entirety at the Criminal Minds Writers blog.
How did you guys become writers?
Erica Messer: It’s always been a part of who I am. In 4th grade I wrote a book called Pickleberry Place about a land of pickles but the king was a cucumber. I was looking for the inherent drama even back then. Most of my writing in college was for documentary work in which I also directed and edited those projects.
In 1997, I wrote a spec for Ally McBeal and got a lot of feedback from the Party of Five writers [I worked for at the time]. I wasn’t sure what to do with the spec, but thought writing another one would be a good idea. Then the development executive for Keyser/Lippman Productions pitched an idea for a screenplay and she suggested Deb and I write it together. We did. It’ll never see the light of day. We knew we wanted to write in television and the best way to do that is to write television samples. So we did that. Once and Again was our first spec, which got us our literary agents. Then we wrote Sex and the City and off of those two scripts we met JJ Abrams for Alias. We were thrilled to get our first job writing on that show. It was an amazing introduction to the world that we’re working in now…
Debra J. Fisher: When I first packed my bags and moved to California, I truly didn’t know what aspect of the industry I wanted to be in. While at UMD I tried everything. Directing, writing, recording radio spots. Anything and any class I could take, I was there. I loved all of it. So when I arrived in LA I worked for FREE on USC and UCLA grad student films. I worked on sets, in the camera department. I was a P.A. getting doughnuts. My parents loved the fact that after graduation from college I was making little or no money getting doughnuts. Soon I joined this company that helped place production assistants to companies. I went in and met with them and they told me I should no be working on sets, that I should be a producers’ or directors’ assistant. Somehow I landed a paying job at a company called Ruby-Spears Productions. Joe Ruby and Ken Spears used to work at Hanna Barbera and did Scooby Doo and such. I became the script coordinator, working with the writers’ on Mega Man and Skysurfer Strike Force. It was fun!
After a year or so I needed to make more money and got offered a job at Warner Bros TV animation dept. That was great. It was a short lived show called Waynehead and I got to meet the entire Wayans family. They did all the voices. I really got a chance to sit in the writers’ room at this point. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED IT. Sitting around with other people coming up with ideas? And you get paid for it? And you get to write the script? I thought I had died and gone to heaven. One of the writers, David Wyatt, who I haven’t spoken to since is the whole reason I started to take a stab at it myself. (He left to write on a Cosby series.) I was talking to him about writing and he was like, “Just do it!” So I did. But my first love was what they called in animation, “live action.”
I loved me some relationship drama and my favorite shows were Party of Five and My So Called Life. If you didn’t know, I am Angela Chase! Kidding. That was my life growing up. No, I’m really serious about that. So somehow, someway, I heard through a guy I met that THE ASSISTANT TO THE CREATORS AND EXEC PRODUCERS WAS LEAVING. The guy got me an interview. I almost threw up. I had a pre meeting with Rick Draughon. He left to write for soaps, by the way. He thought I would be a great assistant for them and I was the first to meet with Chris [Keyser] and Amy [Lippman]. I thought the meeting went really well, but I wasn’t sure. When I was driving home, Rick called me to tell me that not only did it go well, but Chris and Amy canceled all their other interviews! I almost wrecked my car. I was so over the moon happy. I wanted to be a writer and these were the two people on the planet on the very show that I wanted to work on. I started in October of 1996. The TV season had already started in May for writers and July for production. I had a lot to learn and I was assisting two people. It was a lot of work! It was fast-paced and it was the best learning experience for anyone that wants to work on a TV series.
The production stages were on the Sony lot as well as the editorial dept so just like Criminal Minds, everything was there. The writers were all around me, meeting every day. Concept meetings, budget meetings, network and studio notes calls. Everything went through me. I was the gate keeper to Chris and Amy. I even got to read drafts of the early scripts! It was great. But then reality set in…
I had no time to write! I was exhausted every day when I went home. Enter… Erica….
Erica had started worked at PO5 at the writers’ assistant in Dec of 1997. By 1998, Chris and Amy got a lucrative overall deal. They got to have two assistants. It was an easy decision for them to promote Erica. So we both assisted them. It was great, too, because Erica wanted to be a writer. We would read each other’s stuff. Our stuff was awful!
Then one day their development exec, Deborah Cincotta, suggested we take a stab at writing together. What a concept! We both want to write. We work for a writing team. Hmmmm. Good idea! So we wrote a really, really bad feature called ‘Blackout’ I think…. Amy Lippman was like, “You guys want to write in TV, right? Why aren’t you writing TV?” Good question, Amy.
So we wrote a Once and Again and got the attention of some agents. (We also got MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJOR notes from Amy that took our script to the next level.) Then we SIGNED with United Talent Agency and then wrote a Sex and the City. We spent the better part of 2000 going on meetings. Meeting the network and studio people. Our bosses, Chris and Amy were way cool about that. Way Cool.
It was close to May of 2001. There was the threat of another writers’ strike at that time. We would only be staff writers so we were waiting for shows to get staffed and hire the little people. Then one day…
… the phone rang at 9am and I answered it. There was a male voice on the other end and he asked to speak with me or Erica. It was JJ Abrams. I almost disconnected the called I was so freaked out. He said, “I really liked your scripts. Can you meet for coffee today?” Uh, duh. Sure.
We raced to the Palisades to meet with JJ Abrams because his show ALIAS had been picked up to MAJOR buzz and he was leaving for Hawaii with his family. But he wanted another female writer or two!
Our “coffee” turned into a two hour lunch. Man he grilled us. Thank god we were prepared. What stories would you want to tell about Sydney Bristow? How would you keep her accessible to the female audience? Thank god we had each other! After two hours he had to go! He needed to catch a plane. He said… “Let’s do this.”
I’ll never forget that moment for the rest of my life.
Erica and I jumped into our car and immediately called our agents. They simply said, “We’ll get into it” and hung up. We didn’t hear from them for three agonizing hours. What did they mean, they’ll get into it? We were dying. Then, they finally called and said, “Congrats! You start tomorrow!” Huh? You mean I’m never going to answer phones ever again? You mean I’ll never book trips for my bosses ever again? You mean I’m going to get paid to do the very thing I love? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. As they say… The rest is history!
Most people really don’t understand exactly what a writer/producer does. Could you describe the writer’s production responsibilities?
ERICA: It varies from show-to-show. On Criminal Minds, each writer is encouraged to produce their own episodes. This means you are the expert of your episode and are there every step of the way. When prep begins and the meetings are back-to-back, you need to know your script better than anyone else. If your intention wasn’t clear in the script, it is your job to make it clear. If someone has an idea that would strengthen your script, you are thankful that you’re on a great show where everyone wants to make the best product. From prep, you continue onto the actual shooting of the episode. Getting to work with our crew is awesome. They are the best. The heroes of our show. After the shoot, the episode goes into post-production. The editor turns in a cut to the director and then the director turns in his/her cut to the producers. Once all of the producers watch the cut and give feedback, the writer of that episode joins the editor in the cutting room to get the episode ready for the studio and network. Their notes are incorporated, post-production does the rest of their magic with the score and then you get to watch!
Considering the subject matter of Criminal Minds, how do you keep from taking the show home with you at night?
DEBRA: In the beginning I definitely took the show home with me. I rescued a big, big dog and I got an alarm system on my house. I also learned how to fire a gun. Don’t mess with me, people. I can bench press my own weight and I can play football.
ERICA: At first I took it home. And still do, in some ways. But it doesn’t bother me as much now. It’s like a medical student who doesn’t see the blood anymore. The psychology of these criminals fascinates me and if I keep it clinical like that, I’m okay.
What’s the most fun part of working on Criminal Minds? What part do you dislike the most?
ERICA: It’s always talked about in business that success comes when you have the right product, process and people. After a few years of looking for this, I’ve hit the jackpot. Criminal Minds has been all of those things and more. It’s hard to single out the best part, but I’d have to say it’s the relationships I’ve made with every single person on this series. Ed Bernero encourages us to all know one another because we’re in this together.
What part do I dislike? I’ll let you know when it happens.
DEBRA: The people we work with are the most amazing part of this job. [Executive producer] Ed Bernero is a dream to work for. The entire writing staff is amazing. We spend hours and hours together, talking, debating, reading each other’s work, giving notes. I couldn’t think of a better group to spend all this time with. Also the entire crew. I work on a show where I know every single person I work with. Their names, their spouses’ name. Their kids’ names. That’s not the norm… usually…
What do I dislike the most? How fast you have to move in TV. Sometimes the end product can be affected by how little time you’ve had on a first draft or how little time you have to prep because you’re still doing rewrites. That’s a bummer sometimes.
What would you do if you weren’t a TV writer?
DEBRA: I would want to be a freelance photographer. A yoga and pilates teacher. A world explorer and a dog rescuer. I would spend more time with a cause close to my heart: Canine Companions for Independence.
ERICA: My immediate family has a history of civil service to this country. From local law enforcement to FBI, CIA, NASA and State Department, they’ve all tried to make our world a better place. I’d love to follow in their footsteps and become a real hero instead of just writing about them.
Criminal Minds: Edward Allen Bernero, Executive Producer of Criminal Minds, asked me to please post this message:
Dear Fanatic Family --
Christmas Eve, 2007, Hollywood, California.
For me, this is usually a time when I look back on a
year and check off the things I'm grateful for (so
much). But this year, the emotion I'm feeling is
mostly surprise. And I'll tell you why.
I never expected that this would be the way the year
ended. That Criminal Minds would be firmly in the top
five scripted series on television despite a focussed
effort by the other networks to aim their biggest new
guns against us at 9PM on Wednesday. I thought we
could wait them out but you fans didn't even let them
get that far.
I am also surprised that we would be making the show
just fine without Mandy Patinkin. I think Joe has
been a great addition to our family and am grateful
that you fans seem to feel the same way. Your
patience and support in the middle of all that
unexpected drama was incredible.
I am also surprised that we haven't been filming new
episodes for more than a month now. I believed in my
soul that this unfortunate work stoppage wouldn't last
very long. As I look at what's happened, I can't
believe that what I didn't appreciate was the AMPTP's
apparent desire to make the strike last as long as
possible. What we are asking for is not unreasonable.
I think everyone (even the companies themselves)
knows that what we are asking for is incredibly
reasonable. I even think a lot of people on the other
side of the issue agree with us. But, for some
reason, they are unable to get the AMPTP to actually
offer us something that would end this all.
I am also surprised that, due to the strike, I have a
whole new reason to be humbled by your support of our
show and in particular of the people who make it. The
people behind the scenes. Your gracious donations
have helped a number of the crew get through what
would have otherwise been a bleak Christmas. I will
never forget what you've all done. Never.
So, 2008? We'll see. What I'd like to see is a swift
end to this thing so we can all get back to making the
show we love so well. However, I am not the type to
wait for someone like Nick Counter at the AMPTP to
take are of my family and my crew. There are meetings
going on first of the year with companies that want to
fund programs themselves. To find a new way to make
these stories we tell. I'm excited about that. I
plan on getting our crew back to some sort of work as
soon as possible. When that happens, I will let you
all know what it is we're planning so you can share
the ride with us.
Until then, just know that your selflessness and
support has been incredible and humbly accepted.
Barbara, Amanda, Jason and Cris and I wish you all a
great holiday season and look forward to talking with
you all after the first of the year.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
"Criminal Minds" executive producer Edward Allen Bernero interviewed by the Futon Critic (Feb. 2007).
There aren't too many writers in Hollywood who can say they once wrestled a man for their service weapon. Ed Bernero is such a person. Since then, the former Chicago cop turned writer has thankfully only had to have his fictional characters wrestle for fictional guns on such shows as "Brooklyn South," "Third Watch" and now "Criminal Minds." I recently had the chance sit down with Ed at the show's production office where we talked about how he made the transition from cop to screenwriter as well as his love of the Bears, the show's Super Bowl episode ("I almost have to walk into the ocean and die the next day") and TV in general.
Brian Ford Sullivan: How do you not take [the show's material] home with you?
Ed Bernero: We do. First off all, I used to be a cop so I know that most of what we do on here is not as bad as what's really happening out there anyway. I mean we have to tone down most of our show. So they're all based on something real that happened and we sort of have to pull back from the reality, because the reality is usually far worse than we could actually do. But the writers, we have this stack of research when a new writer comes in and has to take home and read - homicide investigation manuals, sexual homicide investigation manuals, etc. Simon [Mirren], my number two, won't even have it at his house overnight. [Laughs.] He'll take them out and put them in his car and then bring them back into his house in the morning. It's just horrendous stuff, but it's happening, happening right now. There's a strangler in London, there's a serial killer in Atlantic City, they're all over the place.
BFS: So then how does one go from being a Chicago cop to running one of the most popular shows on TV?
EB: Very happily. [Laughs.] I was on midnights for the last seven years I was a cop and I started writing for something to do during the day. My wife is a nurse and my kids went to school during the day so I had nothing to do. So I started writing. I was going to write a book and that was horrible. [Laughs.] My problem was I kind of rambled. I would start and then like 12 pages later I was like, "what the hell, it's not even the same story!" And one of the cops I worked with was an actor in Chicago and I was telling him about this and he said, "you know, you should try and write scripts because you really can't do that - you have to hit certain things by certain pages and it kind of keeps you on track." And he brought me Syd Field's book "Screenplay." And I read it in the squad car and I thought "I think I can do this." And I told my wife I was going to write a movie and she's like, "does that cost anything?" [Laughs.] I said "no" and she said, "okay, have fun." And she went off to work and I wrote a Christmas movie and I wrote like four or five movies, never really expecting anything to come of it.
You know, being from Chicago, Hollywood is not something you think about. I really did it just as something to do. After a while my wife was like, "you should find out who to send these things to because they're pretty good, these are movies I'd watch." So we sent some stuff out to Hollywood and one day a guy from NBC called me and after ten minutes of - no you're not, yes I am - he asked me if I ever tried to write television and since [I was a cop] to try and write for one of the cop shows on the air. And the funny thing was is I didn't watch television because working midnights, primetime is like your sleep time. Like I never saw "ER" until I moved here. I knew that it was on - people at work talk about it - but I had never seen it. So I had my wife tape all the cop shows that were on one week and I wrote an episode of "Homicide" and sent it out. And the next week, I had a number of agents call me and this all happened very fast. And I came out here. And the first show that I worked on full time was "Brooklyn South," was on the staff for that. When that was canceled, I met with John Wells and did "Trinity" with him, which was like canceled in the first commercial break. [Laughs.]
BFS: That was the one with Tate Donovan, Justin Louis...
EB: ...right, right, an Irish family in New York. And one of the characters was a detective, which was the only reason I was there. Because I'm an Italian from Chicago, I don't know why they thought of me for "Trinity." [Laughs.] But when that show was canceled, John Wells asked if I wanted to create a show with him and I was like, "ummm, yeah!" And the two of us created "Third Watch," which was on for six years. And when "Third Watch" ended I made a deal Paramount and as part of the deal I was assignable and they sent me a bunch of scripts, and ["Criminal Minds"] was one of them. And I thought "this is pretty cool." So the rest is history. I've been here since the second episode. They did the pilot in Vancouver while "Third Watch" was still on. While the pilot to this was being done, I was directing the final episode ever of "Third Watch." So when the pilot was finished I came over and took over for the second episode on.
BFS: Is [creator] Jeff [Davis] still involved with the show?
EB: No, Jeff hasn't been here since the first month.
BFS: So what's it like to run a show you didn't create after being involved with "Third Watch" for so long?
EB: It was difficult. Any show when you make it, the first 13 episodes all you do is make the pilot over and over to cement in people's minds what it is. And you want to try and get the back nine, you know, the second half of the first season, and once you get the back nine you're sort of out of time to change it. And the second year is where you really can kind of play. What we're doing now is a lot more character-based, we're learning a lot more about sort of their back stories and stuff like that. So it's more fun this year. But it was difficult [originally] because losing the guy who created the show we sort of as a staff... what's different in this environment here is most shows have one person who knows the concept better than anybody and everybody else tries to catch up, to try and be as much help as possible to that person.
In this case, the person who created the show was gone so I, being the showrunner, am much more open to any of the writing staff's ideas because they've all been here from the beginning too. I don't know the show any better than they do. It's very collegiate. We all work together, it's very much a team effort. At the end of the day, I have the final, you know - we're going to do that or no we're not going to that - but I think it's much more collegiate than most shows. Everybody is kind of at the same level, everybody knows the show as much as everybody else. So it had it's disadvantages but at the end, I think it was a huge advantage to have that person pulled out of it.
BFS: You've mentioned [in other interviews] a lot of the show is based on Arthurian mythology, how did that come about?
EB: It started from that. You know how it works - everybody pitches ideas, that you should do this and you should do that - and for me to take all those in and be able to answer whether it works or not I had to have a box for the show. I had to figure out what the show was. Because you don't have time to explore [idea "X"] for three weeks and find out it doesn't work for the show, I need to be able to go "I don't think that's going to work" or "yeah, that'll probably work, this won't." And so I spent a lot of time in the beginning trying to figure out what the show was, what we were telling. And I'm a big fan of Arthurian legend and it occurred to me one day these guys are like the Knights of the Round Table. So when they pitched stories to me, I'd think, "hmmm, does that sound like an Arthurian legend when stripped down to its essence?" We'll even go so far as to figure out which knights each one of them are. So some stories kind of fit under a Galahad or some stories fit under a Lancelot. The F.B.I. itself is King Arthur and all of the knights serve the king in different ways. So it just kind of helps, it gives us a shorthand and I know right away whether a story's going to work or not. So that's how it came to be.
BFS: So I know everybody's big thing is to label a show a "procedural" or a "serial," do you view the show as - "we have an idea, let's see how we can hammer it out in an hour" or is it - "I have a broader sense of where I want to see where these characters go over the course of the year and let's gear the stories to that?"
EB: Yeah, both of those things. Interestingly enough, I never thought of the show as a "procedural." I could never explain what it was. I think it's closer to "X-Files" than to "Law & Order." Because the bad guys that we go after are almost ethereal to people. They're not armed robbers, they're not people you could see every day. These are kind of like ghostly people. Look at the place someone like Jeffrey Dahmer holds in our culture and society, Ted Bundy, these people are kind of ethereal to us. They don't even seem like real people. They're sort of celebrities in our culture in a bad way. It's almost like it's more magical than those other shows although we never try to be magical. Nothing that our guys do are not what the actual F.B.I. doesn't do. The B.A.U. profilers that we talk to and we have one in particular that we talk to a lot, Jim Celemente, who wrote one of our episodes, they're just incredible people. They'll tell you, it's not magic. You look at things and ask "what does this tell you" and "everything you do in a room says who you are." But I think our show is actually closer to "The X-Files" than any kind of procedural.
BFS: So here comes the obligatory "Lost" question - does going against something like that affect how you do the show?
EB: I will say that during the season you don't think about it. Before we were ever on the air, everybody went "oh my God, we're against 'Lost!'" See I was a fan of "Lost" and like most fans of "Lost" I was exceedingly disappointed by the end of the first season that they didn't answer anything. I gave them 22 hours and they [didn't answer anything]. So I thought that they actually made a big mistake. So I thought, "you know, I don't think it's so bad going against [them] because if they're going to disappoint their audience like that we can probably catch them." And I think that's what happened.
Although I think what mainly happened is that we've shown - and like I said I'm a big fan of Damon and Carlton... I think they're incredible writers and we certainly couldn't spend our time thinking, "Can we beat them? Can we beat them?"- but I think what it's really proven is that there's still room for two successful shows [to go against one another]. People think that nobody watches television. I think that if there's something good, people come back. When we have 18 million viewers and they have 17 million viewers, that's not too bad. It almost doesn't matter who comes in first. It can be fun at the showrunner's meeting, but it's not really why we do it. [Laughs.] I'm glad people watch it and I hope they do but you can't write and produce for that. You have to write what you believe in and something that you're proud of and hope that people watch.
BFS: Besides "Lost" then are there any other shows you keep up with?
EB: I gotta tell ya, my newest love is "Dexter." I think that show is amazing. You know, I try to understand why shows on cable feel so much better than shows on network television. And I really believe that the answer is commercials. We have this artificial structure in network television where we have a teaser and five acts, a six act structure. So what we have to have every eight or nine minutes is some high point in drama that we then explain coming back and build up, so we're constantly building momentum every eight minutes. It's unnatural storytelling. Nobody says, "I have a great story for ya" and starts to tell you the story and every eight minutes goes "hold on, I have to go take a shit, then it's really going to get good" you know what I mean? It's not really any kind of natural storytelling. And I think you watch something like "Dexter" where there's a slow build to the story, a pacing to it, a rising action that rises to the end that makes you feel really satisfied.
And I think that commercials in network television... you know, the first time I realized this - it was "24." And speaking of Paul Bromfield, Paul Bromfield did a review of "24" before it came on... and he said, "poor '24,' when you put the commercials in it, it's just not as good." And then I was like, "well, it's not good television then because it's got to be able to sustain having commercials in it." But then I started thinking, oh that's right, when we watch these, I get a DVD and it has the act breaks but they're only a second. It's different than when we see it on television. There's no act break you can do that's going to make people sit there for two minutes and not look at something else. There's just not.
Unless you tell them we're going to give $10 million dollars to the first caller who calls in the second after we come back on. [Laughs.] They're not going to sit there - they're going to get up, they're going to go to the bathroom, pause TiVo, take a phone call, do whatever and then come back and watch the show so it's an unnatural kind of storytelling. And cable, it's very natural. You sit down, you watch an hour - and actually a full hour, not 18 minutes shy of an hour - and I think that's why it's so much more satisfying. It's like watching little movies rather than something that breaks every eight minutes. So yes, "Dexter," I love "Dexter." That's why I have trouble writing a novel, see how I ramble? [Laughs.] I started talking about "Dexter" and I end up talking about slow building storytelling. [Laughs.]
BFS: So with that mind, do you see yourself moving to cable once this show ends - eight, nine years, however long you want it to run - from now?
EB: I think so. I would love to. Every writer I think would love to do something on cable. It's much freer, characters can actually say "shit" instead of "what the heck." I like the fact that you can tell stories slowly. But that being said, I love what I do now. There are certainly not 18 or 19 million people watching "Dexter." If it's got one million people they're happy. We can reach a much larger audience. Last night's episode [EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview was done on December 14.] we did an episode that was very personal to us about the Shemar character being molested as a boy and convincing a young boy that it was okay to say that he was molested. Last night I think 18 or 17 million people I think saw that. In that 17 million people there's going to be someone going through that and maybe today they'll actually talk about it which would be incredible.
It's not likely in cable you're going to get that size of an audience that you can actually speak to. I had an interesting conversation with Danny Glover - I was going to do a show with Danny Glover at one point - and I asked him if being on television was like a demotion, being that he's Danny Glover. I said, "well, on an average night 'Third Watch' had 11 million viewers, tell me what movie ever opened to 11 million people? That's a $110 million opening for a movie. And we do that every week. That's an average night for us. So if you want to speak to people, if you want to reach out and say something to them and touch people's lives - it's television, it's network television that you're on."
It's also, cable is a lot like movies. They do the whole season, they write the whole season, they shoot the whole season and you might not come on for six months. We're a very vibrant industry. We have 22 episodes to do in 10 months, basically 11 feature films. And we have this idea that we're talking about right now, we're going to start filming the day after we come back. It's like so immediate, it's there. There's a level of pressure and excitement to it that doesn't exist in any other field. In movies, shit, it's hurry up and wait. You write a movie now, maybe somebody three years from now will make it. We write something and in a week and a half you're sitting down on the set watching the actors say your words and direct your piece. So it's a much more vibrant world.
There's an urgency to this, it's almost like... old time show business. Every eight days we have a new episode to make. We call it a big machine that eats material, you just have to keep feeding this machine. 22 episodes is 22 episodes. It's also kind of unfair that like in the Emmys it all gets lumped into the same thing because working on a cable show is completely different, it's not even the same field of work than we have. We have to make 22 episodes in 10 months. I mean I would love to boil our season down to the best 10 episodes we made and we waited until they were all finished and we tweaked them all up nice and then put them on. But we can't, that's not the business we're in. We're making 22 of these things. We have four weeks off or five weeks off and boom it's like I got good and bad news - you're back next year. [Laughs.] It's both, like "Oh my God, I have to think of 22 more of these things?"
BFS: On that note, does it ever feel like you're repeating yourself? Like we've killed people 34 ways, what's really number 35?
EB: We haven't. One of the benefits of the B.A.U. is that they don't just do serial killers, they do any kind of serial crimes. We've done arsonists and bombings, a terrorist storyline. The B.A.U. is pretty varied in what they do. I gotta tell ya, we're working on number 16 right now, so for 38 episodes we haven't had a hard time finding material that wasn't fresh. It's a pretty twisted world. [Laughs.] Maybe after 100 we'll have trouble, but so far after 38 we're still going strong. We still have a board full of stuff, it's just a matter of "let's do this one now." There's stuff we thought of in the first season we haven't done yet. It seems to me this show could run for 35 years and not run out of stuff because people just get more fucked up all the time. [Laughs.] Lucky for us.
BFS: In terms of character arcs, do you start each season with characters at point A and go into the season with the goal of them being at point B?
EB: We did that a lot more on "Third Watch," my last show, than we do on this show. I think the most interesting thing we have to explore before we start exploring where they're going is where they came from. And that's what we're trying to do this year. What fascinates me is having been a cop, I know how debilitating it is emotionally and how it's just an erosion of your soul. And I don't know how anyone in the law enforcement world would choose to do what these guys do, which is work around the worst possible people in the world, the worst possible crime scenes, the worst animals in our society. It is endlessly fascinating to me is why - why are each one of these characters doing this? Especially when there are so many other jobs in law enforcement they could do. So I think we need to work backwards a little bit before we can look forward. So one of the things we did at the beginning of the year was really thinking about why each one of them was there. We've done an episode where we showed J.J., that she came from a small town and tried to get out of a small town, almost like the Clarice Starling story; we did the episode last night with Shemar being that he was a molested child and he gets revenge by putting those kinds of guys away; we did the "Fisher King" episodes about Matthew's mother being a schizophrenic, I mean Dr. Reid, and he kind of buries himself in books to not face that reality and that he one day may be schizophrenic because it's a genetic disease. So it's much more important to us now in the show to explore why they're there now instead of where they're going.
BFS: Do you have any favorites? Are there any characters that speak to you more?
EB: I love them all. I believe that any good drama is a family and you either accept or reject that family, not the show. You can have 10 shows of the same genre and if people like the family... "ER's" a great example. It's a family. It was in the middle of a hospital but it was a family. You either like the mother, the three brothers and the father or you don't. And our show is very much that. In our show Mandy's the mom, the emotional center of the show, Hotch is the father, Morgan and Elle are the brother and sister and Reid is the little brother and J.J.'s the good-looking cousin who hangs around. And people either like that family or they don't. And I think what people are starting to respond to now is that they really like the family. So I love them all. I think they're all vitally important characters and they all... you know it's funny when you write, and not everyone writes the same way, but when I write like I sort of let the story come to me and all of our characters say just the right things and the right time. In my mind, there's always somebody to say the right thing. So I think they're all really important. They're not lacking anything, I don't think we have too many. We have just the right amount of people and personalities. So I love the characters, I love all the actors too - it's a really good family. We're very much a family environment here. We're setting up downstairs for a Christmas party and all the producers have to dress up in costumes so everybody can laugh at us. I'm going to be Santa Claus, everybody's going to be elves. It's really just a big family that we have here. And I think that it transfers to the screen.
BFS: So in the end, what do you think you'll take away from this show that's unique as compared to "Third Watch" or "Brooklyn South" and so on?
EB: Well, I'll tell you the one thing that's unique for me is "Third Watch" was filmed in New York and written and produced here, the writing and the post-production here. I was never involved as intensely in production daily as I am now. And I gotta tell ya, it's a lot of work. Two or three times a month I would fly to New York for four or five days, I spent a lot of time there but it's different being what - 100 feet away from the set. And the actors are running up all the time. It's pretty intense but I just love it. It's one of those things where you go, "God help me, I love this." I love the hours, I love the vibrancy of it. I love creating things that I know that people are going to see in a couple of weeks. Now we're doing an episode that's following the Super Bowl. Like I said, this could potentially be the greatest night of my life - the Bears could be in the Super Bowl, or God forbid, win the Super Bowl, and then my show immediately follows the Super Bowl. I almost have to walk into the ocean and die the next day.
BFS: So how did that phone call go? Was it Les [Moonves] who told you?
EB: Well it was Rosemary [Tarquinio] who is our direct CBS executive. And we had just come off our highest numbers of the year - like two or three weeks ago. And she called me about that, they always call me up at 7:00 the next morning. And she said, "I have something to tell you with David Bromfield," who's the boss of television over there. I was like, "uh-oh, don't tell me we had our highest numbers ever and we're canceled." She goes, "No, no, it's good news." And you know what they did, they didn't call me [back] for a day. Because I think what they had to do is someone went "hey, did we tell all the other shows?" You know like the "C.S.I.s" because they're the heavy hitters. So then they called me the next day and I thought they were kidding. I would have bet that it would have been "C.S.I." or something like that and they said "no, this actually came directly from Les, that he wants this to be the show that follows the Super Bowl." It's just incredible, such an incredible feeling. It's what made "Grey's Anatomy" number one. And we were like number four last week already and now we have the potential to be the number one show on television and that's just incredible to even consider. Because nobody ever goes in thinking that's ever possible. So many things have to go right. Because if you really kind of have to work for that, you're going to be eternally disappointed. So it's incredibly exciting and humbling. I just am so grateful to Les and Nina Tassler to even think about putting us there.
BFS: So are you using one of your already planned episodes or starting from scratch for the Super Bowl?
EB: We came up with a whole new episode although the next one up [that would have aired that week] is going to be great too. We wanted to tailor something to the Super Bowl. So we've come up with a whole new episode that's a two-part episode that leads into Wednesday night from Sunday night, you know, try to transfer some of that audience into our regular night. When it actually starts, you think you're still watching the Super Bowl and we pull back off a television at a Super Bowl party so we're really kind of tailoring it to that night, to sort of continue to magic that is the Super Bowl, that the Bears are going to win. [Laughs.]
BFS: Finally, at the end of the day - what's it like to do this every day, to have your own show?
EB: Well, first off I don't try to make it my own show. Truly, if I had to come here every day and think of it as my show and I was the guy, I think I'd lose my mind. There's just way too much to do. I have incredible people that work on this show, incredible artists in every facet who I trust completely. So, to answer your question, I love every day. I feel lucky. And the interesting thing is we try very hard to keep it exactly the same today as it was at the beginning of the season before we were this super rising show. Cause you know, we still have to make the show, we've still got to do the work. We try not to get too excited or too depressed when the critics don't like us - we still have to make the show. And if you truly aren't making it for yourself, then none of that stuff really matters. So the fact that our numbers go up every week is gratifying but it's not why I do it. I'm excited people are watching. It's no different than being on a show like "Third Watch" which I'm just as proud of and didn't have as many viewers. I just try to never forget how lucky I am to do this. I've been a cop. I've been shot at. I've had to wrestle people for my gun in an alley. This is pretty fucking special to do this for a living. And get paid a lot more than cops do.
Criminal Minds: Here is a note from Edward Allen Bernero, Executive Producer of Criminal Minds, to the show's fans:
Hello again, AMAZING CM Fanatics. Thought I'd drop in
with an update (such as it is) since week 5 of the
strike is coming to a close and, unfortunately, it
doesn't appear to be any closer to resolution.
Though the WGA and the AMPTP has been at the table for
two weeks now, there has been little movement. I have
a decidedly biased view of the situation but I think,
even someone completely objective can see the actions
of the AMPTP are pretty unconscionable. They
presented half an offer, still haven't responded to
our counter offer, keep asking for time and blaming
the WGA every time the negotiators grant them that
time. It's childish and bullying and, I would have
thought, beneath them. Plus, it seems like they are
already going to lose more money than any deal would
ever cost them and they are harming hundreds of
thousands of people who rely on the entertainment
industry in the process. Never forget that. They are
hurting people. Willingly and intentionally.
If you check out Nikki Finke's columns on her Deadline
Hollywood and the United Hollywood web sites you can
keep up with what's happening. They're both updated
on a pretty regular basis throughout the day (I go to
the various sites it seems like a hundred times a
day). United Hollywood especially posts many things
fans can do to support us (like the pencils thing).
Not only financially, but suggestions for phone calls
or letter campaigns. Proactive things like that. I
wholeheartedly support and endorse their activities
and I'd appreciate you all doing the same thing.
Finally, you guys have been incredible in your support
of the show and of us individually. We have opened an
account with the monies you've already donated and now
have a fund ready should anyone in our crew family
need assistance. A fund made possible by all of you.
Thank you is nowhere near a strong enough response
but it's all we have and we humbly offer it.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Criminal Minds: Edward Allen Bernero, Executive Producer of Criminal Minds, and Shemar Moore, Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds, are pictured on the picket lines in a show of solidarity with the WGA.
In an extraordinary show of power and solidarity, some 70-plus showrunners, from series as varied as CBS' Numb3rs to Disney Channel's Hannah Montana, walked the picket line Wednesday in front of the Disney lot in Burbank, CA. Virtually every primetime show was represented on the line by its exec producer. Among the showrunners marching alongside WGA West President Patric Verrone were Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (Lost), Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy), John Wells (ER), Steve Levitan (Back to You), Ed Bernero (Criminal Minds, pictured with star Shemar Moore), Bill Lawrence (Scrubs), Kevin Falls (Journeyman), Greg Berlanti (Dirty Sexy Money, Brothers & Sisters), Seth MacFarland (Family Guy), Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives), Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl), Joss Whedon (the upcoming Doll House), and Carol Mendelsohn (CSI).
"It's very heartening to see everybody. It's an extremely powerful group," said Levitan, whose freshman comedy Back to You went dark on Wednesday with only three completed episodes in the can. "There is not one person out here who doesn't lose in a strike, and there is not one showrunner who is actually going to gain anything. We are all going to lose, no matter what happens. The minute we lose a week's production, we lost and will never regain that. Past generations have made a sacrifice for us, and now it's our turn to make a sacrifice for future generations."
Wells showed mixed emotions about walking the picket line. Though he described the gathering as "old home week," because he was running into so many familiar faces from his past, he was discouraged that the Guild is striking over issues that are "relatively easy to resolve." He also downplayed his involvement in the closed-door talks over the weekend that ultimately fell apart late Sunday. "It was overblown," he said. "What I did over the weekend at the request of the Guild was to make some calls and try to get people together to talk. I was concerned and the Guild leadership was concerned that there hadn't really been serious conversations taking place. Finally, there was some real progress on Sunday, and some real talking going on. But these conversations should have really happened months ago."
Not everybody on the picket line looked happy to be marching with their fellow showrunners. Chuck Lorre, who executive produces the top rated sitcom Two and A Half Men and the freshman hopeful Big Bang Theory, wore a long face and barely socialized with his fellow picketers (both his shows were forced to shut down indefinitely). And Lorre's mood only got worse; within an hour, he would learn that a low-level executive at Warner Bros. TV would attempt to complete the post-production episodes of Men and Theory that are still in the can. "I want to go back to work," he told Hollywood Insider. "Somebody call the president of show business and resolve this!"
Throughout the morning, several actors and celebrities joined the showrunners on the picket line, including Moore, Jay Leno, as well as Sally Field and a few other members of the Brothers & Sisters cast. This won't be the last show of solidarity by the guild; Grey's Anatomy stars Katherine Heigl, TR Knight, and Sandra Oh are expected to walk the picket line with the writers on Wednesday afternoon, and the entire, 3,000-plus WGA West membership is expected to converge on Paramount Studios on Friday morning.
Meanwhile, rumors persist that several more studios will join Paramount on Wednesday in suspending development deals for writers who are not in production on shows.
More in this article: http://hollywoodinsider.ew.com/2007/11/day-three-of-st.html
Chris Evans: We shot that here over the summer. That’s a good, gritty independent. That’s a great example of a great script and director, first time director, never directed anything. A guy named Andrew Wilder wrote and directed it. When you have the writer director combo I have faith. They’re the same person, they have vision, they know what they want. This is his life story. It’s about a group of kids who grow up in the city who do bad things. They deal drugs, beat people up. My character meets a girl that inspires him. Tells him that he’s living below his potential and he gets out and leaves. His buddies kind of crumble and miss him. They do bad things to get him to come back. Long story short, it’s about drugs, violence, friendship, and love. It’s gritty and sad, but super independent, super low budget. That’ll run festivals and probably go to Tribeca [Film Festival] in May.
The rest of the interview with Chris Evans can be found at:
Monday, February 4, 2008
Filmed in Vancouver by Dimension Television in association with Outerbanks Entertainment. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Billy Campbell, Kevin Williamson; co-producers, Andi Bushell, Jim Praytor, Sherry Carnes; producer, Gina Fortunato; co-executive producer, Randy Zisk; director, Zisk; writer, Kevin Williamson.
The Glory Days TV show was a dramatic comedy series about an author who wrote a bestseller novel with characters based on people from his home town. They even made a movie from it! Then the author got a severe case of writer's block and decided to take a break from writing by visiting his home town. When he got there, he found that many of his former friends and acquaintances weren't too happy with the way they were portrayed in the novel and the movie.
Eddie Cahill ............ Mike Dolan
Jay R. Ferguson ......... Sheriff Rudy Dunlop
Poppy Montgomery ........ Ellie Sparks
Emily VanCamp ........... Sam Dolan
Frances Fisher .......... Mitzi Dolan
Amy Stewart ............. Sara Dolan
Ben Crowley ............. Zane Walker
Theresa Russell ......... Hazel Walker
Rolling Stone September 19, 1996 -- issue 743, Conan O'Brien (cover),Articles: Conan O'Brien by Chris Mundy, R.E.M and Billy Corgan.
Rolling Stone August 6, 1998 -- issue 792, Beastie Boys (cover), Articles: Beastie Boys by Joe Levy, Lucinda Williams by Chris Mundy and Rob Sheffield on Maxwell's and the Artist's new releases.
Chris Mundy wrote incredible articles for Rolling Stones Magazine. Google Rolling Stones Chris Mundy and read some of the insightful articles Chris has written.
copyrighted by Jill Davidson 2008
I'm currently in the process of writing an article about Erica Messer and her writing partner Debra J. Fisher for 'Adopt a Writer'. Because their answers to the preset questions are so imformative I've decided to also post the questionaires. Here is Erica's form. :)
Full name: Erica Cramer Messer
Hometown: Lived in Washington, D.C. for years before moving to Ocean City, Maryland
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland
Jobs prior to entering television:
Since living in LA, I've always worked in television somehow.
Whether it was temp work for the Casting department at Fox Broadcasting Company or my permanent position as the assistant to the Vice President of drama series at Fox. I used to talk to Deb Fisher on the phone when she worked at “Party of Five.” I wanted to get back into the production world – it’s what I loved in school – and Deb told me that P05 had an opening for the writers’ assistant position. Before I knew it, I was working there with some amazing writers. Of course there was Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman who created the show, P.K. Simonds, Mitch Burgess and Robin Green, Lisa Melamed, Tammy Ader… all great people and talented too!
Before the days of La La Land, I had many trades. My first paid gig was as a babysitter for families in the neighborhood. I was 14 and had a younger brother so everyone knew I could manage their toddlers too. I never knew how valuable that job was until I had kids. So wish we had a babysitter in our backyard! I was also a licensed manicurist in the state of Maryland throughout my college years. I worked at a popular salon in Ocean City called Headlines. After that, I worked as a bartender at an amazing pool bar (yes, the kind where people swim up to the bar and never leave which makes you wonder about how they got rid of all that booze they were consuming). I was a hostess in the winter time since there wasn't much use for a pool bar when there was snow on the ground! During this whole time (my college years), I also continued to nanny for a few families. My husband tells me I was always working. Sometimes three jobs a day. I guess all of those trades have helped me wear the many hats that I’ve worn during my tenure as a television writer. So, that was my life before moving West and following my dreams.
Q: Most people really don't understand exactly what a writer/ producer does. Could you describe the writer's production responsibilities?
A: It varies from show-to-show. On Criminal Minds, each writer is encouraged to produce their own episode. This means you are the expert of your episode and are there through every step of the way. When prep begins and the meetings are back-to-back, you need to know your script better than anyone else. If your intention wasn’t clear in the script, it is your job to make it clear. If someone has an idea that would strengthen your script, you are thankful that you’re on a great show where everyone wants to make the best product. From prep, you continue onto the actual shooting of the episode. Getting to work with our crew is awesome. They are the best. The heroes of our show. After the shoot, the episode goes into post-production. The editor turns in a cut to the director and then the director turns in his/her cut to the producers. Once all of the producers watch the cut and give feedback, the writer of that episode joins the editor in the cutting room to get the episode ready for the studio and network. Their notes are incorporated, post-production does the rest of their magic with the score and then you get to watch!
Q: Once you have a Criminal Minds script, how long does it take to complete pre-production things like casting guest stars, finding locations, etc?
A: Guess I kind of answered this in a long way, but for the most part it’s a 7-day prep.
Q: What are your post-production responsibilities? How long do you have between filming the script and having it "ready for prime time"?
A: This varies throughout the year, but ideally we have a 3-week post schedule.
Q: How did you become a writer?
A: It’s always been a part of who I am. In 4th grade I wrote a book called ‘Pickleberry Place’ about a land of pickles but the king was a cucumber. I was looking for the inherent drama even back then. Most of my writing in college was for documentary work in which I also directed and edited those projects.
In 1997, I wrote a spec for “Ally McBeal” and got a lot of feedback from those “Party of Five” writers I was talking about earlier. I wasn’t sure what to do with the spec, but thought writing another one would be a good idea. Then the development executive for Keyser/Lippman Productions pitched an idea for a screenplay and she suggested Deb and I write it together. We did. It’ll never see the light of day. We knew we wanted to write in television and the best way to do that is to write television samples. So we did that. “Once and Again” was our first spec, which got us our literary agents. Then we wrote “Sex and the City” and off of those two scripts we met JJ Abrams for “Alias.” We were thrilled to get our first job writing on that show. It was an amazing introduction to the world that we’re working in now…
Q: What's the most fun part of working on this on Criminal Minds? What part do you dislike the most?
A: It’s always talked about in business that success comes when you have the right product, process and people. After a few years of looking for this, I’ve hit the jackpot. Criminal Minds has been all of those things and more. It’s hard to single out the best part, but I’d have to say it’s the relationships I’ve made with every single person on this series. Ed Bernero encourages us to all know one another because we’re in this together. What part do I dislike? I’ll let you know when it happens.
Q: Considering the subject matter of Criminal Minds, how do you keep from taking the show home with you at night?
A: At first I took it home. And still do, in some ways. But it doesn’t bother me as much now. It’s like a medical student who doesn’t see the blood anymore. The psychology of these criminals fascinates me and if I keep it clinical like that, I’m okay.
Q: Criminal Minds actors seem to work well together on screen. Does the same synergy exist among the writing crew as well?
A: We’re all very different, but manage to get along incredibly well. There’s a lot of laughter and happiness even though we write one of the darkest shows on television.
Q: Criminal Minds uses a number of special effects to show thought processes, etc. What is involved in writing and producing scenes with special effects?
A: The key is to be as specific as possible and have numerous conversations with the director about the shared vision. Most of the visuals involve a green screen effect which begins during the shoot and gets massaged throughout post-production.
Q: What do you think most viewers misunderstand about what it takes to write and produce 22 episodes of a top rated, primetime network show like Criminal Minds?
A: Not sure of the misunderstandings, but I think people are always surprised to hear about how long the process takes to produce a single episode.
Q: Deb asked “What would you be if you weren’t a writer?”
A: My immediate family has a history of civil service to this country. From local law enforcement to FBI, CIA, NASA and State Department, they’ve all tried to make our world a better place. I’d love to follow in their footsteps and become a real hero instead of just writing about them.
copyright 2008 Jill Davidson
copyrighted by Jill Davidson 2008
I'm currently in the process of writing an article about Debra J. Fisher and her writing partner Erica Messer for 'Adopt a Writer'. Because their answers to the preset questions are so imformative I've decided to also post the questionaires. Here is Deb's form. :)
NAME: Debra J. Fisher (J stands for Jane)
HOMETOWN: Grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland. 20 minutes outside Washington D.C.
SCHOOL: B.A., Radio, Television & Film - University of Maryland, College Park
JOBS BEFORE TV WRITER: Script Coordinator for various animated series. 'Mega Man','Skysurfer Strike Force', and 'Waynehead' and an animated series about the life of Damon Wayans growing up in New York (This was for the Dub Dub Dubya B - Warners Bros TV Animation). After that became the Executive Assistant to Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman (Co-creators, writers' and Executive Producers of 'Party of Five')in October of 1996, the third season of the hit FOX show.
TIDBIT: Started talking to Erica on the phone on my first day while she worked as an assistant at Fox! She came to work as the Writers' Assistant for PO5 in December of 1997.
WHAT IS A WRITER/PRODUCER?: The first part is pretty simple. The "writer" or "writers'" of the episode typically come up with the story and physically write the episode and get a "written by" credit at the front of the show. But, as you may or may not know, so much more goes into the making of just one episode. When you "produce" the episode you're involved and actively working with the other departments in various stages of pre-production. 1) casting 2) location scouts (where are we going to shoot the exterior shots?) 3) wardrobe 4) props (guns, knives, handcuffs, various torture devices) 5) special effects (those UnSub shots and transitions) 6) Production meetings (one in the beginning of prep and one at the end. Each dept sends a representative and we go through the script page by page with the director, the AD's, and talk about every aspect of the scripts. What crane is needed? How many extras? How much blood?) Lastly, the day before we shoot 7) Tone meeting. One of the most important meetings during prep! The writer or writers' sit down with the director and go through the script, scene by scene and discuss characters, motivation, story, blocking of the scene (if they've done it yet). It's a very important meeting for the writers' to convey to the director the intention of a scene and why it may be important to focus on a particular character and what's the sub-text of a scene. What is this character thinking, etc? It's also a chance for the director to talk about the physicality of equipment and blocking, etc.
ALL THAT IS ONLY PRE PRODUCTION.
Then we have 8 physical production days where we shoot the episode. On location and at the stages. When you "produce" your episodes, the writer or writers' is on set for every minute of the 8 day shoot. We work with the director, actors, department when they have questions about dialogue. And when we rehearse a scene, some dialogue might not work with the physical location, etc. And we'd have to change something. Sometimes in rehearsal, the scene isn't working as written, so we would change things on the spot.
THAT IS PRODUCTION.
Then the editor gets a certain number of days on their cut. The director is supposed to have about 7 for his or her cut. Then as "producer" we watch the "directors" cut. We get notes from the team, then we go into editing for a certain number of days. After our "producers" cut is shown to the network and studio, we do more cuts/trims/fixes based on their notes. All the while we are working on finding music if we haven't already, and writing ADR. Usually two or three days before a show airs, we see a cut with music, effects, etc. We can make a few minor adjustments at this point. Levels of music if we can't hear dialogue, things like that.
THAT IS POST PRODUCTION IN A NUTSHELL. Then our show airs and we get to do it all over again!
HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?:
When I first packed my bags and moved to California, I truly didn't know what aspect of the industry I wanted to be in. While at UMD I tried everything. Directing, writing, recording radio spots. Anything and any class I could take, I was there. I loved all of it. So when I arrived in LA I worked for FREE on USC and UCLA grad student films. I worked on sets, in the camera department. I was a P.A. getting doughnuts. My parents loved the fact that after graduation from college I was making little or no money getting doughnuts. Soon I joined this company that helped place production assistants to companies. I went in and met with them and they told me I should no be working on sets, that I should be a producers or directors assistant. Somehow I landed a paying job at a company called Ruby-Spears Productions. Joe Ruby and Ken Spears used to work at Hanna Barbera and did Scooby Doo and such. I became the script coordinator, working with the writers' on Mega Man and Skysurfer Strike Force. It was fun!
After a year or so I needed to make more money and got offered a job at Warner Bros TV animation dept. That was great. It was a short lived show called 'Waynehead' and I got to meet the entire Wayans family. They did all the voices. I really got a chance to sit in the writers' room at this point. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED IT. Sitting around with other people coming up with ideas? And you get paid for it? And you get to write the script? I thought I had died and gone to heaven. One of the writers, David Wyatt, who I haven't spoken to since is the whole reason I started to take a stab at it myself. (He left to write on a Cosby series.) I was talking to him about writing and he was like. Just do it! So I did. But my first love was what they called in animation, "live action."
I loved me some relationship drama and my favorite shows were 'Party of Five' and 'My So Called Life'. If you didn't know, I am Angela Chase! Kidding. That was my life growing up. No I'm really serious about that. So somehow, someway, I heard through a guy I met that THE ASSISTANT TO THE CREATORS AND EXEC PRODUCERS WAS LEAVING. The guy got me an interview. I almost threw up. I had a pre meeting with Rick Draughon. He left to write for soaps, by the way. He thought I would be a great assistant for them and I was the first to meet with Chris and Amy. I thought the meeting went really well, but I wasn't sure. When I was driving home, Rick called me to tell me that not only did it go well. But Chris and Amy canceled all their other interviews! I almost wrecked my car. I was so over the moon happy. I wanted to be a writer and these were the two people on the planet on the very show that I wanted to work on. I started in October of 1996. As you know the tv season had already started in May for writers' and July for production. I had a lot to learn and I was assisting two people. It was a lot of work! It was fast paced and it was the best learning experience for anyone that wants to work on a tv series.
The production stages were on the Sony lot as well as the editorial dept so just like Criminal Minds, everything was there. The writers were all around me, meeting
every day. Concept meetings, budget meetings, network and studio notes calls. Everything went through me. I was the gate keeper to Chris and Amy. I even got to read drafts of the early scripts! It was great. But then reality set in...
I had no time to write! I was exhausted every day when I went home. Enter... Erica....
Erica had started worked at PO5 at the writers' assistant in Dec of 1997. By 1998, Chris and Amy got a lucrative overall deal. They got to have two assistants. It was an easy decision for them to promote Erica. So we both assisted them. It was great, too, because Erica wanted to be a writer. We would read each others stuff. Our stuff was awful!
Then one day their development exec, Deborah Cincotta, suggested we take a stab and write together. What a concept! We both want to write. We work for a writing team. Hmmmm. Good idea! So we wrote a really, really bad feature called 'Blackout' I think....
Amy Lippman was like, "You guys want to write in tv, right? Why aren't you writing tv?" Good question, Amy.
So we wrote a 'Once and Again' and got the attention of some agents. (We also got MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJOR notes from Amy that took our script to the next level.) Then we SIGNED with United Talent Agency and then wrote a 'Sex and the City.' We spent the better part of 2000 going on meetings. Meeting the network and studio people. Our bosses, Chris and Amy were way cool about that. Way Cool.
It was close to May of 2001. There was the threat of another writers' strike at that time. We would only be staff writers' so we were waiting for shows to get staffed and hire the little people. Then one day...
... the phone rang at 9am and I answered it. There was a male voice on the other end and he asked to speak with me or Erica. It was JJ Abrams. I almost disconnected the called I was so freaked out. He said, "I really liked your guys' scripts. Can you meet for coffee today?" Uh, duh. Sure.
We raced to the Palisades to meet with JJ Abrams because he show ALIAS had been picked up to MAJOR buzz and he was leaving for Hawaii with his family. But he wanted another female writer or two!
Our "coffee" turned into a two hour lunch. Man he grilled us. Thank god we were prepared. What stories would you want to tell about Sydney Bristow? How would you keep her accessible to the female audience? Thank god we had each other! After two hours he had to go! He needed to catch a plane. He said... "Let's do this."
I'll never forget that moment for the rest of my life.
Erica and I jumped into our car and immediately called our agents. They simply said, "We'll get into it" and hung up. We didn't hear from them for three agonizing hours. What did they mean, they'll get into it? We were dying. Then, they finally called and said, "Congrats! You start tomorrow!" Huh? You mean I'm never going to answer phones ever again? You mean I'll never book trips for my bosses ever again? You mean I'm going to get paid to do the very thing I love? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. As they say... The rest is history!
WHAT'S THE MOST FUN PART OF WORKING ON CRIMINAL MINDS? WHAT PART DO YOU DISLIKE THE MOST?
The people we work with are the most amazing part of this job. Ed Bernero is a dream to work for. The entire writing staff is amazing. We spend hours and hours together, talking, debating, reading each others work, giving notes. I couldn't think of a better group to spend all this time with. Also the entire crew. I work on a show where I know every single person I work with. There name, there spouses name. There kids names. That's not the norm... usually...
WHAT DO I DISLIKE THE MOST?
How fast you have to move in tv. Sometimes the end product can be affected by how
little time you've had on a first draft or how little time you have to prep because you're still doing rewrites. That's a bummer sometimes.
CONSIDERING THE SUBJECT MATTER OF CRIMINAL MINDS, HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM TAKING THE SHOW HOME WITH YOU AT NIGHT?
In the beginning I definitely took the show home with me. I rescued a big, big
dog and I got an alarm system on my house. I also learned how to fire a gun. Don't mess with me people. I can bench press my own weight and I can play football.
CRIMINAL MINDS ACTORS SEEM TO WORK WELL TOGETHER ON SCREEN. DOES THE SAME SYNERGY EXIST AMONG THE WRITING CREW AS WELL?
Oh, yes. The writers' work so well together. We're like a well oiled machine. Especially the same writers' who've been around since the beginning. You tend to have a short hand. It's easy and that's really nice.
CRIMINAL MINDS USES A NUMBER OF SPECIAL EFFECTS TO SHOW THOUGHT PROCESSES,ETC. WHAT IS INVOLVED IN WRITING AND PRODUCING SCENES WITH SPECIAL EFFECTS?
It's a group effort. After we have a concept we talk with various people and
departments. Special effects, props and the director! Oh and don't forget our
line producer. He tells us if we have the money to do it at all! Thank you Charles Carroll.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MOST VIEWERS MISUNDERSTAND ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES TO WRITE AND PRODUCE 22 EPISODES OF A TOP RATED, PRIMETIME NETWORK SHOW LIKE CRIMINAL MINDS?
Are you kidding? After reading this I can't imagine that anyone won't get what we do! haha. Truly, though.... How much time it takes to make an episode of television and just how many people are involved. It's very stressful but very rewarding at the same time.
I love it when fans ask: Do you write for one character or all the characters?
Do you write some or all of the lines? :)
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WEREN'T A TV WRITER?
I would want to be a freelance photographer. A yoga and pilates teacher. A world explorer and a dog rescuer. I would spend more time with a cause close to my heart: Canine Companions for Independence.
Copyright 2008 Jill Davidson.
Andrew Wilder ~ Wilder 'King' at Cosmic Ent. ~2003
Bledel, Evans, Treach, Pullman among cast by Cathy Dunkley
Andrew Wilder has written and is making his directorial debut with the feature "The Orphan King" for Cosmic Entertainment.
Drama follows a group of friends growing up in New York City, the first generation of latchkey kids, trying to escape a life of decadence in 1980s Manhattan.
Alexis Bledel, Chris Evans, Treach (from the music group Naughty by Nature), Bill Pullman, Andrew McCarthy and Jason Van Over star in the pic, which Emily Cummins of Cosmic is producing with Lemore Syvan. Jay Cohen is exec producing.
Peter Sahagan's Ardustry Entertainment is financing the pic, with Sahagan also expected to take a producing credit.
Wilder, repped by Endeavor and Bondesen-Graup, previously penned "The Section" for helmer Gregory Hoblit. He also wrote "The Pledge" for helmer Phillip Noyce and "East Side Story," for which he won USC's Jack Nicholson Award for screenplay.
He is adapting the novel "Games of the Hangman," written by Victor O'Reilly, for producer Bill Todman. Thriller concerns a soldier and war photographer who discovers a student suicide is really a murder by a sadistic killer.
Criminal Minds writers Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie, wrote six episodes of "L.A. Dragnet" (Riddance, The Magic Bullet, For Whom the Whistle Blows, Artful Dodger, Cutting of the Swath and The Big Ruckus). Jay Beattie told us during a chat in the Criminal Minds chat room that they enjoyed writing for this show.
Chris Mundy, Co-Executive Producer and writer for Criminal Minds, wrote two episodes (Blank Generation and The Badlands) of "Cold Case" prior to the start of Criminal Minds. This YouTube is of "The Badlands" which aired on October 3, 2004. Written by Chris Mundy and directed by Tim Matheson.
"When the prime suspect proves to be innocent, Rush and the team re-open a 2003 triple homicide at a now-condemned restaurant in a blighted inner-city neighborhood. The diner had been a neighborhood oasis before the owners & their 17-year-old busboy were brutally murdered. The original crime scene was Rush's first case, but she was soon called off to join the Cold Case squad, leaving Vera as the officer in charge. It quickly becomes clear that Vera's investigation was sloppy, which infuriates Jeffries, who grew up in the neighborhood."
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Debra J. Fisher and Erica Messer, Criminal Minds writers of Scared to Death, Open Season, The Last Word, The Perfect Storm, Charm and Harm, Open Season, Unfinished Business, Natural Born Killer and Birthright wrote two episodes of "Charmed", Show Ghouls and Once in a Blue Moon. The dvds are available for purchase on amazon.com
Charmed 7x15 "Show Ghouls" trailer. First aired February 20, 2005
Writer: Rob Wright, Debra J. Fisher, Erica Messer
"Hoping to purge Daryl's (Dorian Gregory) friend Mike (Charles Robinson) of a ghostly possession, Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) and Drake (Billy Zane) travel back to 1899 arriving at the place where a cabaret is destined to be destroyed by a horrific fire. Alas, the duo is unable to return to their own time"