Thursday, March 4, 2010

Interview with JERICHO and HUMAN TARGET's Robert Levine: Part IV - Writing the Jericho comic book and getting an agent

Part I - Climbing the ladder as a writer's assistant
Part II - Working on Jericho's first season
Part III - Writing Season Two of Jericho

Jericho was canceled again due to low ratings after the second season, but true to its reputation as a show that refuses to die, the storyline was recently continued in a Jericho comic published by Devil’s Due. Rob was given the task of co-writing a few issues in that storyline.

With the death of Bonnie in your last episode, you knew you had something that was going to make everyone on the internet go “Holy shit!” Do you track internet reaction after one of your episodes airs?

Especially on that show because [there was such a passionate following.] I know those people now. They’re still vocal. They read the comic book.

Which is a great segue way into talking about your work on the comic. So in comics, you’re freed from any production concerns.


You can do anything, but is there a point where you feel yourself putting limits on yourself so that it “feels” like Jericho?

No. Not really. Only in terms of wanting to stay with the characters [from the show.] If anything you’re tempted to do too much, and the only limitation in comics realistically is that you only have 22 pages. But at the same time, you’re completely free from limitations in terms of locations, the actors that you’re using. You can use a character in just one scene [and not feel it’s] a waste of money to pay them that much and only use them [so briefly.] It came at a good time for the story, because the story by the end of Season Two wants to explode.

So you can actually show this civil war instead of just being locked into everyone back in their bunker in Jericho?

Now I think the challenge is keeping a story in Jericho going, keeping that interesting now that the scale is so big. It’s been fun.

I’ve got a few readers who want to me to ask if there’s any news about a Jericho movie, and if there’s any bearing that the comic would have on the storyline for that movie.

I don’t know. I don’t know any plans. Jon Turteltaub’s guys would be able to answer that better.

Is there any direction you’ve gotten from them in terms of “You can’t do this in the comic because these characters need to be available for the film?”

Hopefully I’m not talking out of school, but a lot of what we’re using in the comic, I think, is what they had initially talked about for the movie, telling these kinds of stories – Jake and Hawkins on the run with Smith, Jericho becoming an active place of resistance. It’s all that stuff. I’d like to think that if they made the movie they’d either pick up where the comics are leaving off, or basically adapt the story we’re telling on the big screen so you can actually see the stuff with the actors.

But I don’t know. I don’t know where [the movie] stands.

Any desire to keep writing comics after this?

I had to learn from scratch how to do it, and now that I have I want to keep doing it. You know, it has that benefit of minimal production costs. You can do what you want for very little.

Scripting comics is strange because unlike TV or movie writing, there is no set format for comic scripts. I’ve seen some that look like screenplays and some that are just written in paragraphs. Did that take some getting used to?

Yeah, someone said it’s like directing a movie because it’s not just dialogue, it’s what in the frame, what you’re showing, how you’re showing it. I haven’t gotten that adventurous in terms of the pages I’ve written whereas there are other writers for the show who have. Issue four is by a different writer, Matt Federman, and it’s the entire story of John Smith [the character in the show who masterminded the nuclear attacks that begin the story], which is something you could only do in the comics [because he’s not a regular character on the series].

You could never do that on the show. You could never take an entire episode and just devote it to that character. But in this format you can, and it reveals the entire backstory mythology of the show. It spans years. Every question you have gets answered. As a fan, you can move forward. You know the origins of this guy, you know how he did what he did, why he did what he did. It’s an emotional story. It’s great, it’s really great. [And] Federman did much more radical things [than myself] in terms of how the page is arranged, the things you see and how information’s coming out. It’s awesome.

At what point in your career did you obtain representation, and do you have any advice for unrepped writers currently seeking representation?

I obtained representation around the time I was staffed on Jericho, then I changed agencies before the beginning of the second season. From my story, you can see representation didn't make much of a difference in terms of landing my first job. It was the inverse: the fact that I already had a deal made me attractive to agencies, because the hard work was done.

Still, having an agent is important because they'll negotiate your deal for you and even after you're staffed, they're working to get your name out to all the studios, networks and production houses that might hire you in the future.

My advice for unrepped writers is to start approaching agencies as soon as you have a couple pieces of material you feel confident in. Use personal connections if you can. But I would also say you need to manage your expectations in terms of what difference an agent will make at that stage in your career. Obviously, the strength of your writing is a huge factor. But the more relationships you're able to develop on your own, either through your day job or otherwise, the better your chances will be.

Let's talk writing samples. As someone on the inside, what would you tell a writer who was looking to start his TV specs. I hear original pilots are the way to go these days, is that so? What are the essential qualities of a good TV spec?

I think original material is always a good bet, but I wouldn't feel limited to pilots. A short story or a play can suffice just as well.

Remember what your objective is with a writing sample: it's not to sell a specific piece of material. It's to sell you as a writer. Your voice. Your vision. Pilots can do that, but they also come with an added expectation, because a good pilot needs to have more than just a good story, characters and dialogue. It needs to work as a launch for a show that could run several seasons, and if it doesn't suggest that kind of longevity, it will judged on that. Short stories and plays don't carry that expectation. Plus, frankly, they can be shorter, which means someone will be that much more likely to start and finish reading them.

Now, writing plays and prose carry their own challenges, but I think it's worth considering the advantages. Features can work as original samples as well, but again, they tend to be longer.

Those guidelines aside, I think what it boils down to you is fairly simple. Write what you like, what excites you as an audience.

Part V - Writing for Human Target


  1. Great article and Robert did an excellent job and the comic has the feel of a Jericho episode.

  2. 「不可能」這個字詞,在聰明人的字典中是找不到的。........................................