Friday, October 30, 2020

How Greg Berlanti helped make CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS an EVERWOOD reunion

The EVERWOOD reunion in tonight's CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS Zoom live read came about because I broke one of the most unbreakable rules in showing your scripts. With every other script I've ever written, I've never shown it to anyone with any standing in the business until AT LEAST four people have read it - usually many more.

When I sent CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS to Greg Berlanti, NO ONE had read it in full, not even my wife. It was one of those scripts that was just so dense, and so inside baseball that I couldn't really thinking of anyone in my trusted circle who would "get it." But I was putting it out there publicly and I was playing with some of Greg's most beloved characters. Also, if you go back to the first day of reactions to the initial pages I posted, you'll see that Jonathan Gabay, an executive at Berlanti Productions was one of the first people to be intrigued by this concept, telling me, "I need this script finished asap." Since I was sending it to Jonathan, there was really no reason NOT to send it to Greg, at least as a heads-up.

Within days, Greg replied he couldn't wait to read it over the weekend and that it sounded awesome. I'd mentioned that Ben Blacker was already on board to produce this as a live-read fundraiser, and so Greg generously said if we needed help from anyone on his team, we should let him know. When I asked, he said he'd be happy to make a few calls. 

During the planning, I discovered one trait of Greg's that might explain some of his success. It was the first phone call with me, Greg Berlanti, Ben Blacker and Gregory Smith as we were hashing out the best way to do this live read. Greg Berlanti jumps on the call, and very quickly he's saying things like, "I think this could be something really special! You could raise a lot of money with this, do a lot of good! I think it's the kind of thing people need right now with the state of the world and it'd be a really fun show!"

It felt like he was selling ME on MY script! Obviously I agreed with him, but hearing him say that got me even more charged up to do it - and I think that's the point. It's like a coach giving the halftime speech to the team, it just brings up the energy immensely. If there's one thing I've learned from Greg it's to be the most enthusiastic person in the room. Be that beacon of positivity. Be the one who believes the most in what you're doing because people WILL follow you.

I've had bosses in this business who seemed to exist in a state of permanent jadedness and world-wearyness. Every move came from a cynical place. Even if they were right, they didn't fire you up about what you're working on. In the entertainment industry, you have to be the biggest believer in what you're working if you're ever going to make something people care about.

Anyway, within a couple weeks it was official - Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp were onboard. I - perhaps one of the biggest EVERWOOD fans alive - had written something that would be a mini-EVERWOOD reunion.

As protective as some actors are of their iconic roles, I knew to temper my hopes as far as getting anyone to reprise their role. I really don't think that Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp would have returned without the script having Greg's blessing. It really meant a lot to have three of the most important people in EVERWOOD put their weight behind this.

How did I get to the point of being able to email Greg Berlanti directly? Well, it started with Twitter.

A quick look at my archives will substantiate that I've been writing about EVERWOOD for a long time, and that it's not the only one of Greg's shows I've raved about. Whenever one of those posts went live, I'd tag Greg on the tweet promoting it. Greg's not particularly active on Twitter, so I never got the kind of interaction I'd had with some other showrunners, but every now and then he'd send a brief reply of thanks.

Then one day out of the blue, he followed me on Twitter. It was strange because I hadn't engaged or tweeted anything that should have caught his eye. My best guess is that maybe he saw my breakdown of the EVERWOOD pilot, which I'd posted about a month earlier. There was no interaction then, but it's important because it meant almost exactly a year later, I was able to DM him directly.

I was setting up a live read of THE MAKING OF STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII, a script I'd written with Brian Michael Scully. The occasion was my ten year anniversary as the Bitter Script Reader and I decided to mark the event by throwing a live read and inviting the many Twitter friends I'd made, and some of the professional contacts I had yet to meet in person.

To that end, I sent Greg a DM that read something like, "please excuse this one-time intrusion into your DMs, but I'm doing this live read as part of an anniversary celebration. I'm inviting a lot of people I've met via Twitter. Your work's meant a lot to me for a long time. It's part of the reason I want to be a writer and it'd be an honor to have you."

And then I waited to get unfollowed. But that didn't happen. Four or five days later, I woke up to a DM from Greg that began, "First of all, I'm touched you asked. And by all means this doesn't need to be an intrusion so write anytime." He went on to tell me that he had a conflict with that date - and it was a legit conflict - but he'd try to send someone from his company.

I wrote back to thank him and that I was glad it wasn't annoying. I mentioned that at the moment, I was working at Warners, so at least now I knew not to be shy if I ran into him on the lot.  On the day of the show, Greg sent me a message wishing me luck and saying that since I was on the lot, maybe I could stop by the office sometime and say hi.

Well, I'm not gonna say no to that, am I?

What eventually happened was we agreed to meet for coffee on the lot, and I learned something valuable from that. I got to meet Greg outside his office and then within like thirty seconds our chit-chat led me to bring up my son... and we discovered our kids are literally just days apart in age, so as Dad's we were dealing with the exact same things, same TV shows they were obsessed with and so on.

At this point, I'm pretty good at not being star struck, but I always worry I'll make a fool of myself in front of someone who's work I've really been into. By meeting Greg on neutral territory and having the conversation go the way it did, I didn't feel like I was meeting "Greg Berlanti, most prolific TV producer." I was talking to "Greg Berlanti, fellow dad" and from that moment on, it was like talking to a new friend who I was on equal footing with. When you're taking a general meeting that you're nervous about, try to find some way to get to that place in the conversation.

And then we went back to the office anyway. Greg said, "I want to know what you're writing now, your two best scripts, and what shows you're really into at the moment." My technique for answering was to make sure there was a thruline that ran through all of these. In other words, figure out how your favorite shows relate to what you've written before, and how all of that informs what you're writing now. As a bonus, if you can make all of that relevant to the person you're talking to, that's gold.

After I weaved through those answers, Greg said, "Okay, let's skip to the end of the meeting and then we can just chat for 40 minutes. I'm gonna give you my email. Send me your two best scripts. Give me a couple weeks to read them because we're about to work on some pilots, but after that we'll have hired some new execs for staffing and then I can pass what I like onto them, if that's okay."

If that's okay? Yeah, I think I'll be fine with you reading my work personally and then considering me for staffing.

I sent him my teen drama thriller pilot and my 13 REASONS WHY/AWAKE spec. Since at least ten minutes of our meeting ended up discussing THE MAKING OF STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII, I also included that, while specifying it was independent of my submissions. I was just sending to him in case he was curious.

He read all three - which means that even before Greg read CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS, he'd read more of my work than every showrunner I've worked for - put together! 

As it turned out, that staffing season wasn't my year. Had some meetings with his execs and one of his showrunners, but didn't get it. I kept up contact with Greg and ultimately, when SUPERMAN & LOIS came along, I was offered Writers' Assistant.

That was a no-brainer. My favorite character in a series produced by one of my favorite writer/producers? It felt like destiny that after all the time I waited to break in, THIS was going to be it.

And this is where I've buried the lede. I can't tell you anything about the episode's plot. I can't even tell you which episode it will be, but by the end of first season of SUPERMAN & LOIS, you will see an episode with the credit, "Written by Adam Mallinger."

(That's me, in case you forgot already. Craig Byrne at KSiteTV was the first to break the news in this interview with me today.)

My first episode of television is going to be a Superman episode. This is something like 35 years of my life in the making. There are so many things in my life that have led up to the developments of the last couple months that if my life was a TV show, I'd feel like this was the endgame leading to the series finale.

I hope you all enjoy the show tonight. The entire act of making this program is an experience that has meant a lot to me.

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