Dan Shotz is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s a successful writer/producer at Junction Entertainment (Jon Turteltaub’s production company), where his credits include:¬†Jericho,¬†Harper’s Island, and the upcoming¬†Common Law. He also worked on the films¬†National Treasureand¬†National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
I’ve known Dan for a few years now, and I’ve got to say, he’s as genuine as they come. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him a few times, and he has made me feel great about every moment I‚Äôve spent on a project with him.¬†Dan’s agreed to take time to answer a few questions while on location for¬†Common Law.
1.) Dan, thanks a ton for being a part of this blog series. You’ve been credited as both a writer and a producer on the shows you’ve worked on. What’s the difference between being the two titles on an episodic television series? As a producer, aren’t you also part of the writing staff?
Jason, please, it’s my pleasure. You have been such an amazing supporter of ours. Thank you for asking me to participate in your blog.
Television works very¬†differently¬†than features when it comes to responsibilities and credits. In features writers are rarely active producers. ¬†Once they finish their screenplay, the director and producers take that material and put it on film. (Obviously, the exception is a writer who is also directing.) In TV writers are often credited as producers and given more responsibility in overseeing the day-to-day process of running a show. ¬†The showrunner of a series is usually the head writer and the primary figure in charge. While I am a writer on many of our shows, as a producer I oversee all aspects of production‚ÄĒcasting, prep on location with directors, monitor shooting, editing, and all post-production. The benefit of being a part of the writing staff is that as you go into production, you know the intention of every word. This makes it a lot easier to communicate that to the production team on the ground.
2.) Being a writer is really being a storyteller. What are some of the essential ingredients in telling a really great story?
I have always been inspired by this mantra‚ÄĒcharacters first. This has been instilled in me from my film school days to working with director Jon Turteltaub as well as strong showrunners. ¬†Let’s just say that audiences will forgive a lot if they love your characters. While the premise is key to launching and selling a show, the characters are what keep you around and inspire you to keep writing for them.¬†Jericho¬†is a great example. People tuned in because of the premise, but stayed around because they fell in love with all the townspeople at the center of it. They were the ‚Äúsecret ingredient.‚ÄĚ¬†
3.) You get to work with some very talented people. What steps do you take to foster a sense of “team” amongst your co-creators?
Great question. It’s not easy to have a lot of differing personalities with strong opinions in a room together for nine straight months/twelve hours a day. That is why there’s junk food, a few punching bags, and a whole lot of Bejeweled and Angry Birds! ¬†The key ingredient here is respect. As long as everyone is respecting each other and the process, things will go smoothly. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of people crying, storming off, screaming, and even threatening others. It’s like a group marriage‚Ä¶you won’t always be happy, you may disagree, you may even be adamantly opposed to something, but if you share the love for the world and characters, you can hopefully find balance and compromise.¬†¬†
4.) It’s hard to hit a home run every time you’re up to bat. When you’re breaking a new story and it just doesn’t feel like it’s working, does it ever feel like you’re not going to be able to overcome the creative roadblock in your way? If so, what do you do to overcome that?
Every day you feel that block, but every day you rally together and get it done. I have been on shows that have had episodes blown up a day before shooting by the network. It’s truly amazing what coffee and panic can get the mind and body to conquer. When we start a season, we always say we aren’t going to do late hours on this one, and every season there is that time when you do an all-nighter to get it right. I love TV because you are not sitting home alone. You have a support system. If you hit a roadblock, there are other, much smarter people to give you a lift. It’s crucial. With great minds all working together, you can do anything. Wow‚Ä¶that sounded very inspirational. Well, sometimes you do end up with crap, but you don’t know it until later.¬†
5.) Since you’re involved in the creation of a series almost from the beginning, does it ever feel like you’re so close to a series that it’s hard to view the finished product with an objective eye? Besides ratings, what metrics do you use to determine if an episode is a “success”?
You must trust your instincts in this game. It’s all you have. Everything is so subjective. At the company where we develop our ideas, Junction Entertainment, we don’t just throw a lot of ideas at the wall and hope something sticks. We take very specific ideas that feel right and work through them, find the flaws. If there are too many, we let it go. But we rally around the best of the best and push those forward. Execution is a different beast. Some of my favorite ideas just never made it for a variety of reasons. So many variables make up a successful show. And even success is questionable. Some people would call¬†Jericho¬†unsuccessful, but I see it differently and so do many fans.
Thanks for your answers Dan. Can’t wait to see¬†Common Law!
Read part 1 of the¬†Hollywood Writers’ Series with Carol Barbee here.
Read part 2 of the¬†Hollywood Writers’ Series with Jonathan E. Steinberg here.
Read part 3 of the¬†Hollywood Writers’ Series with Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia here.
Read part 4 of the¬†Hollywood Writers’ Series with Jeffrey Berman here.
Read part 5 of the¬†Hollywood Writers’ Series with Trey Callaway here.
Read part 6 of the¬†Hollywood Writers’ Series with Eric Champnella here.