What: Campbell Fox, star athlete and super student at Milton University, discovers that he is descended from a long line of wizards whose purpose is to protect the school against evil forces.
Who: Campbell Fox, who seems to live under a favored star, is the only freshman on the Varsity water polo team. With beautiful girlfriend, Amy, and childhood friend Lucas, local boy Campbell is leading a charmed life. Charmed, it would appear, in more than one way as he finds out when he attends a celebratory frat party and unexplained phenomena begin to occur around him and to him due to a mysterious and foreboding ripple in the atmosphere. Electricity courses through him and he shocks (literally and figuratively) anyone who comes in contact with him; he finds he can read the thoughts of the people around him – and it’s not all flattering; and in a final jolt, Campbell, like a live wire, sends forth a bolt of electricity that shorts out everything in the frat house. Terrified and uncomprehending, he hightails it home to the comfort of his parents; it’s not comforting.
As he explains the events of the past few hours to his parents, Margie and Neil – the lightning bolts, the mind reading, and a strange teleportation incident when, at one moment, he was standing and talking to Amy and the next moment he found himself in the next room – he misreads their concern.
Margie: We were hoping we’d never have to have this conversation with you.
Neil: Son, you’re a little… well… (beat) You’re a witch.
Campbell takes an extended beat, then:
Campbell: Did Dad just call me a little bitch?
Margie: No, honey, you’re a witch.
Campbell takes another beat, seeming to absorb this information, but alas:
Off Campbell, his head spinning…
Neil: The traditional name for us is witch, but whatever you want to call us – witches, wizards, warlocks – that’s what we are.
Margie: Your father and I left the order when you were born. We didn’t want this life for you.
Neil: The hope was that if we didn’t raise you with the knowledge, if we didn’t train you, you’d never have to know. You could live a normal life.
Margie: But your powers seem to be manifesting anyway.
Campbell: A brain tumor makes more sense.
Neil: Sorry, kiddo. Not this time.
Campbell: So you’re saying I have magical powers now? I don’t want to be able to read anyone’s mind. People choose what they say out loud for a reason.
Margie: There are some naturally inherent gifts that come with being what you are. They’ll show themselves in time and when they do, you’ll know how to use them. But what you experienced these past couple days was most likely just unchecked potential. Years of suppressed power finally trickling out. I don’t think you need to worry about those powers repeating.
Campbell: What does this mean exactly?
Neil: We’re conjurers, sorcerers. We possess the potential to influence nature and events through certain rituals or spells. Well, not so much “we” anymore. Your mom and I gave that up long ago.
Campbell: What if I don’t want to be a witch?
Margie: Doesn’t seem you’re being given much choice.
Campbell: You guys gave it up.
Margie: We did. But we first cultivated it, understood it. Now we can control it.
Margie’s heart is breaking. She feels helpless, until:
Margie: I have something that might help you understand.
Margie goes over to the window seat. She opens the lid, digs inside, pulls up a hidden compartment and extracts a large ancient book. She brings it over and hands it to Campbell. He looks at its cover which has only a medieval looking picture of a fox on it.
Margie: This is our family Grimoire.
Campbell: What’s a Grimwire?
Margie: Grim-war. It’s a collection of all our family spells, invocations and charms. It’s been passed down for generations
Still reeling from the shock of this discovery, Campbell returns to school only to find that his status has changed dramatically. He’s too distracted to function in water polo and is relegated to the bench. Everywhere he turns he’s become a laughing stock and even Amy has abandoned him. In one fell swoop, he’s gone from popular star athlete to pariah. He still has Lucas on his side and a new friend in the form of the intrepid (and beautiful) Melora. Needing all the help he can get, he confides his secret to them and thus begins the ordeal of unraveling the meaning of the spells in the Grimoire and discovering more of his own history.
Several chance encounters with a Professor King (a man not all he appears to be, or more specifically less than he appears) reveals more, maybe too much, information.
King: You know, don’t you?
Campbell: Know that something really freaky is going on at this school? Yeah, I do. What do you know?
King: Why should I know anything?
Campbell: Because you do. You’ve known all along what’s going on and for some reason I can’t figure out, you haven’t said anything.
King: You really want to know? Because once I tell you, you can’t unknow it. And believe me, you’ll want to.
Campbell: Tell me.
King: Who do you think founded Milton?
Campbell: Wasn’t it a bunch of Puritans in like the 1600’s.
King: That’s the popular belief. And what the school charter says. It’s even what they called themselves. Yet they were anything but pure and far from Christian.
Campbell: What were they?
King: A demonic cult that dabbled in necromancy and the black arts.
Campbell: I don’t know what necromancy is, but I’m guessing it sucks.
King: I suppose one could say that. They conjured demons, created monsters, and held sacrifice after sacrifice to please the beasts they designed. All within these hallowed university halls.
Campbell: What happened to the Founders?
King: They died. They were, after all, only mortal men. But upon the last of their deaths, a protective spell went up that sealed, inside these walls, all of the evil they dreamed up, never to be let out again.
Campbell: Who did the protective spell?
King: No one knows.
Campbell: So they’ve all just been sitting here? All the nightmares anyone can imagine, just resting peacefully inside the University somewhere, locked up and hidden?
King: In the most simplistic terms, yes…
Campbell senses there’s more.
King: But… I think, I suspect, that that mythic seal has cracked. I believe there’s been a tear in the fabric of that protective charm, and the evil that has been trapped inside for so long is slowly leaking out.
And since its founding in 1632, Milton has been protected by the presence of one family and its Grimoire of spells; that family name is Fox and Campbell, willingly or not, will be charged with preventing evil from re-entering its walls. When one of his friends is inhabited by a dark force from that ripple in the atmosphere and begins to wreck havoc on the school and its students, Campbell will have to turn to his book of spells and his very limited coterie of allies in order to turn back the danger. But it’s only the beginning…
No Meaner Place: A WGA Access award winner, “The Wizard of Exeter Hall” is another script that seems not to have found a home and more’s the pity. Much like “Captain Cook’s Extraordinary Atlas,” Ranadive has fused a “young adult” mystery with fantasy and come up with a franchise. It’s not an enormous stretch to think of this in terms of a modern young-adult Harry Potter discovering his powers for the first time. Hidden in plain sight within this well-paced adolescent thriller is the tale of the “outsider” - the losers, the unpopular, the different and the additional empathy found by the once popular student who finds himself, through no fault of his own (if there ever is actual fault involved), on the outside looking in for the first time. Monsters, witches, wizards, ill-defined forces of evil, fraternity boys, mean girls, clueless parents – it’s all in here. Dawn Ostroff what are you waiting for?!
Life Lessons for Writers: We can all use more fantasy in our lives, at least the Harry Potter variety.
Neely: I loved your script and I’m usually not a big fan of fantasy or Sci-Fi. Where did the idea for this come from?
Nicole: That’s such a nice compliment, thank you. Basically I’m just a huge horror/supernatural/sci-fi anything remotely genre fan. If it comes on my TV, I’m gonna try them all out; if it has a sense of humor and/or self-awareness, even better. So it’s not a big stretch to imagine that Exeter Hall came from my love of shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The X-Files,” and really, honestly, the fact that I just missed them being on my television. I had just left “24” and it was time to write a new sample and I hadn’t actually tackled a pilot yet, so this was my first. I thought, I could try something mainstream, do the sort of sample that would maybe get me a job at a “CSI” or I could write what I would watch; what I wish was on TV. I had had this idea floating around and decided to do it.
Neely: I’m hoping that this wasn’t going to be a “monster of the week” show.
Nicole: (laughs) It’s actually funny you should say that because I love monster-of-the-week shows and my favorite “X-Files” episodes were not the mythology alien stories (I thought they got a little convoluted sometimes) but the stories with the kooky weird monster that they invented blew my mind every week. That being said, you have to love a good mythology and I think you need to keep that going to sustain interest in the show. Joss Whedon was brilliant at that. I think the best shows have always had both that engine and the capacity to do stand-alone episodes that start and end with some “baddie” our guys prevail over that usually parallels a personal story that speaks to the core characters. At the end of the day, though, I do like the monster-of-the-week shows.
Neely: (laughs) Can you give us a hint about the further adventures of Campbell and his intrepid little band?
Nicole: I hadn’t actually mapped out a whole lot. I had my theme and some future story arcs to explore. I’d worked out a lot of questions but had not yet landed on any answers. Whereas “Buffy’s” theme was “high school is hell” I was thinking that “Exeter Hall” would be a little bit more of the next phase; paralleling teenagers’ ascension into adulthood. Maturing into an adult is like fighting all kinds of demons and coming out the other side; the demons and monsters would parallel a lot of these themes. An episode might be learning to think for yourself by fighting a mind-controlling demon. I was also going to try to intro a nemesis for Campbell – like a big baddie for either the series as a whole or maybe just a season. I do think he would need that – someone seemingly innocuous like the University grounds keeper or his water polo coach – somebody you wouldn’t immediately think of. Maybe the grounds keeper could be someone whose family has been there for generations also, always unnoticed. This guy has finally found a way to break this protective spell and he and Campbell are vying for control of the school, only Campbell doesn’t know it yet. I was thinking of keeping the identity of his nemesis a secret. Just some things like that and lots of other questions like who performed the protective spell. Maybe Melora was a descendent from Merlin or some Celtic tribe who put up the spell centuries ago and maybe being near her made Campbell’s powers manifest. This might be what keeps them apart because there has to be some sort of obstacle between them. Unfortunately you don’t have the excuse to keep working on it and you have to move on to the next thing, you have to set those things aside.
Neely: I loved the Harry Potter parallels. Were those novels a big influence on your script?
Nicole: Originally the idea actually started from my love of “Buffy.” As I was getting into it, of course, the parallels to the “Harry Potter” series started becoming evident, especially with the University. What JK Rowling did, what she created in those books is beyond incredible. I remember reading that first novel and thinking that on every page she was creating something new and inventive. Even just tiny little throw-away things like the candy the kids were eating on the train... the books were just brilliant. I think that we all aspire to things like that, but few of us attain it. I read all of the books and she’s obviously a big influence.
Neely: Interestingly, I was just in a Facebook exchange with a former student (who’s amazingly bright) and he was quoting Harold Bloom, the philosopher, poet and critic at Yale who was lamenting that “Harry Potter” was the downward spiral of civilization. Of course I’m exaggerating (a little), and the quote was actually: “… the Harry Potter books are going to end up in the rubbish bin. The first six volumes have sold, I am told, 350 million copies. I know of no larger indictment of the world’s descent into subliteracy.”
Nicole: Why is that?
Neely: I think he was depressed that, rather than being a book that parents read to their children, adults were reading it for pleasure rather than reading something more significant. Since I only read the secondhand Facebook commentary, and not being a huge fan of Harold Bloom anyway, I allowed myself to believe that he was dissing the one book series that got people, especially children, reading again. My mother was always demanding that I read the “classics” before I read those that she deemed weren’t classics. So, I just stopped reading (and didn’t begin again until after college).
Nicole: If children and adults can both read the same thing, both enjoy them and then both discuss them together, it’s all good. That reminds me of things I hear about Stephen King a lot, too. Of course I’m a huge fan of his also. Underrated may be a funny description since obviously he’s one of the best selling authors on the planet, but I feel like he and JK Rowling are underrated as actual literature. Some of the turns of phrasing in their books are amazing. These aren’t just silly cobbled-together stories that people are reading. They are actually on the page.
Neely: I’ve never been a fan of Stephen King, but I also don’t lament people reading him – because it’s reading. The biggest mistake I made as a parent (well actually I can’t say the biggest mistake – there were plenty of whoppers)… but my son, when he was in high school glommed on to this series of fantasy books by Robert Jordan and I did nothing but slam his choice, to the point where he just said, “Fine, I’m not going to read them anymore.” And he read nothing. I probably set back his enjoyment of reading by 10 years. I wonder where I picked up that attitude?
Nicole: (laughing) It probably didn’t scar him as much as you think. That’s tough, but there’s always going to be a disconnect between parents and kids. “That’s not music. This is music. That’s not reading. This is reading.” Obviously now that you read for a living, it does remind you that reading is reading even if you don’t think that something is brilliant. Reading still sparks the imagination and gets people interested in stories.
Writing something, especially fantasy, is very hard because there is so much to figure out. You’re creating a world and you’re creating all the rules and you have to be clear. But it’s so expansive and really really fun.
Neely: Even in bad work, you sometimes find a kernel of a story. I hate when I hear someone say “I can read the first 5 pages and know whether it’s any good or not.” I read a lot of bad things all the way through because there could be a germ of something good, something original that can be developed. That being said, mainly I read television scripts, so in those cases I’m only losing an hour that I’ll never get back. If it’s a feature script, that becomes a bit more frustrating and I am more resentful of the time I’ve lost (I’ll confess to skimming in that case).
At the risk of gushing, I loved the parents in this script. They were charming, warm, supportive and totally clueless. They were so Lindsay’s parents on “Freaks and Geeks.”
Nicole: Oh my god! I love that you mentioned “Freaks and Geeks.” It’s one of my all time favorite shows.
Neely: Don’t we all wish we had parents like that – actually everyone has clueless parents, but the rest… the supportiveness, the warmth, the stuff you don’t appreciate when you’re a kid, or even as a young adult.
Nicole: That is such a wonderful reaction to them. I needed that exposition for who Campbell was and the history of the family. In every aspect of this, I relished the idea of this long line of witches and events going back generations and centuries from the University, which in itself is a character. Although this was “boy who discovers he comes from a long line of witches,” I also wanted that “Greatest American Hero” aspect where the main character discovers this gift but really has no idea how to use it. The parents had to be unable to train him. They would recur every so often but not be a really big part of the first season. Unlike Harry Potter who had an entire school full of professors and mentors and people guiding and training him, I really wanted Campbell to have none of that. No training, no real guidance except for this surly professor who only reluctantly helps because he’s pulled into it. I thought there could be some sort of comedy that could be mined from that.
Neely: How much research did you do for this story and what kind of research was it?
Nicole: It was all kind of brewing from all the genre stories I’ve watched and read. For this story I did a lot of fun research on Grimoires, myths, legends and witch folklore and the history of Harvard, which was the model for Milton.
Neely: Where did you look to find information on grimoires?
Nicole: Mostly just hours spent on the net researching. Typing one thing in that leads you to another, that leads you to another. I’m trying to remember what I read, but I probably bookmarked a whole bunch of places.
Neely: Did this script go out as an original or as a writing sample?
Nicole: I actually wrote it as a writing sample and I think that it might have gone out to ABC Family, and possibly also to Alloy Entertainment (they do “Gossip Girl” and “Vampire Diaries”). Other than that, I don’t think my team pushed it anywhere. I was just trying to write the best sample that represented me. I remember that when I turned it into my agents, ‘cause I had gone off on my own to do this, the reaction I got was, “Nobody’s buying high school shows right now.” My feeble response was that this was college, but that didn’t seem to change anybody’s mind. Cut to a couple of seasons later and you have “Vampire Diaries” and “Gossip Girl” and “90210” all over the place. But as long as people like you read it and enjoy it, then I’m happy. I think I may have turned it in after buying season was pretty much over, so that’s on me.
Neely: This highlights the insanity and lack of originality in terms networks: “No one is buying a high school show right now. No one is buying a cop show this season. We don’t want a legal show.” If a good show comes along, then why not look at it as “this is a good show.”
Nicole: You would think. But they’re all trying to brand themselves and they all have their mandates for the season.
Neely: It’s a herd mentality.
Nicole: The great thing about “original” is that it’s timeless (for the most part). “Original” can’t be locked into “this” season or “that” show. You can possibly go out with it another time when people are buying high school shows or supernatural shows.
Neely: But they haven’t done that with this, have they.
Nicole: No, I don’t think they have.
Neely: Well, there’s still time. So did anybody have any notes to offer?
Nicole: Originally when I sent it to my manager, he gave me some really good notes, one of which was advice I’d heard before and I now take to heart. In the first two acts, I had set up all the trials and tribulations that Campbell was going through because I thought it was important to character and story establishment. I originally had him having that big freak-out finding out he’s a witch at the end of Act II because I wanted to show how Campbell was at the top of the food chain and how wonderful everything was for him. I wanted to show a slow demise. The big note that my manager gave me was “Move it up. This should happen at the end of Act I because your story doesn’t start until the freak-out at the end of Act II, so move it all up.” And I protested that it was so important to show his character… Nope, move it all up.
Neely: I’ve heard that many times before. Dana Gould got a similar note from Mike Scully about moving the entrance of a pivotal character to the beginning of Act I rather than the end because it kick started the action. If what triggers the show occurs in Act II, then move it to Act I.
Nicole: You think all this stuff is so important – it’s character development…
Neely: It is important! But you’ve got nothing if you don’t engage the audience.
Nicole: …but it was obviously the right note. You have to get it going.
Neely: …and if the character is there, it will come through.
I’m blown away by the breezy tone of “Wizard,” especially given that your produced credits have been on a show not known for its levity – “24.” Which writer is the real you?
Nicole: Is it cheating to say both? I love genre and I consider both of the shows to be genre – different genres, obviously, but I also love action. I loved “24.” Yes, it was missing some humor (which would have been nice). I remember that every so often we would try it and I know with the Chloe O’Brian character they tried to insert a little bit of humor. But Jack… there was just no humor to be had. (laughs). I guess if I had to choose, under penalty of death, I would probably say that “Wizard” is more representative of me. And, I don’t know if I’m stunted in high school or college, but I love all of those John Hughes-y, “Freaks and Geeks” type of stuff too.
Neely: You also have a teleplay credit this season on “Hawaii 5-0.” That was a show that I was really prepared to hate, but found myself swept up in its knowing self-reference and the lightness in tone. How did that assignment come about?
Nicole: I had worked with the showrunner on “24” a few years before and I was going out for staffing and staffing was going slow. When I read the pilot for “5-0,” I was honestly blown away. I thought it was fast-paced, wall-to-wall action, it was funny, it was fun and I called him up and just said that I knew he was probably already staffed up, but, since I had started out as a script coordinator, I made him an offer. “What would you think about me coming on as coordinator? Then if you saw any potential for a freelance and/or staffing when there were openings…” He was really receptive and cool about it. So I came on as script coordinator and true to his word, he assigned me this pivotal episode that I’m really proud of. I can’t take the credit for the story because that was all him but it was really really fun. It was nice to get back to work and to be on a show with a group of people and working with the writers. I really enjoyed it.
Neely: Is that where you are now?
Neely: You have a very high powered team behind you with Madhouse Entertainment and CAA. How did that come about?
Nicole: Sometimes it still amazes me. My long story short is that I actually bounced around a little at the beginning of my career with representation. I initially signed… I don’t know if you remember this “experiment” back in the day – AMG (note: Michael Ovitz’s reinvention of self) – they were my original representation. Three months after signing me, my manager called me and told me she was leaving the business. It was kind of a shocker. But I was lucky because after the original round table with the other managers at the company, another manager wanted to take me on. Then when AMG became The Firm, that manager left and another manager with The Firm kept me and hooked me up with CAA, the agent I have now. Then when The Firm imploded and that manager left, my agent at CAA hooked me up with Madhouse. (Neely Laughs) I know. I went around the friggin’ gamut.
Neely: But always with a top level agency and management company!
Nicole: I can’t complain, I know. They’ve all been so amazing and I feel lucky everyday not only to have the great representation that I have but that somebody always wanted to keep me when there were all these changes happening. I do feel, sometimes, like the disappointing kid because they are so powerful and they are such incredible selling machines, and all I really want to do is be a working writer. I’m not always in the “let’s go sell things” mode; I sometimes just kind of want to write what I want to write and hope that people like it and want hire me or maybe want to buy it.
Neely: How did you get started writing?
Nicole: I knew that I wanted to do something in TV and film. I’m the TV generation, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’m not one of those writers who knew she wanted to write since grade school. Now I look back and realize that I always did write; I just didn’t realize that that’s what I wanted to do.
So I came to town and did the PA thing trying to figure out what each of the jobs were. And the more I worked, the more I realized that I wanted to be the creator of the world that people were watching and not put someone else’s vision to film - that was the writer. I tried my hand at it and it really was like other writers describe. Once you fall in love with it, that’s kind of it. You know that that’s what you have to do.
Neely: Where did you go college?
Nicole: I went to UCSD which is very much a pre-med school. It wasn’t my brightest decision. I was a communications major, but I did get a good education out of it.
Neely: Did you come up to LA immediately after school? Are you from San Diego?
Nicole: I’m from Berkeley, California – the Bay area. So I went from Northern California to Southern California. I wanted to come straight to LA, but I was one of the typical statistics in that I couldn’t afford it yet. I moved back home for about 9 months to save up some money and then I moved down to Los Angeles. I tooled around, PAing on music videos at first, and then got on a TV show as an assistant and figured it out from there.
Neely: How did you get that first PA job?
Nicole: Ironically, the first PA job was on a music video that was being shot in Oakland when I was still living at home. It was a company from LA. I can’t remember how I got hooked up with them, but I’m sure I was going all around San Francisco and everywhere in the vicinity looking for any kind of assistant work before I got on that shoot. I kept in touch with those people when I came to LA and did a few jobs for them, here and there. Then I did some internships - you know, where you work for free doing reading or whatever else is wanted. I met some of the best people on one of those internships. One of them got a job at UTA and told me about this job on a TV show. I interviewed and got it.
Neely: What were the steps you took to get that first writing job?
Nicole: When I figured out that I wanted to write, I had to figure out whether I’d be any good at it. I needed to learn the basics so I took a writing course at the UCLA Extension. At that time they wouldn’t let you take just a TV writing course, you had to take an “Intro to Screenwriting.” I did, and I wrote a truly terrible romantic comedy feature (that I hope has been erased from my annals). Then I started writing TV specs. I wrote a “Buffy” and an “X-Files” that got me some attention. Then I wrote an “NYPD Blue” that got me my first rep at AMG. But the first ever produced script I got was when I was an assistant on “Dawson’s Creek.” I got a freelance for Season 5 (I think). It was a great first experience for me because I had been working on the show for a couple of seasons and knew those characters. It was much less intimidating than getting a freelance on a show I didn’t know as well.
Neely: You mentioned that you’re now the script coordinator on “Hawaii 5-0,” but I did notice that your last steady writing job before this was a few years ago as a staff writer on “24.” How did you keep food on the table?
Nicole: I am amazingly frugal. My family also couldn’t understand how I was able to write for a couple of years without having a steady job. Between savings, a little bit of unemployment, and residuals – residuals are nice- I muddled through and it wasn’t all that painful. I really got back to work, not so much because of the money, but because I wanted to get back out there working with people and meeting new people and being part of a show again.
Neely: You are extremely resourceful, I know a lot of writers who started as script coordinators. Had you done that before.
Nicole: Yes. Originally I was the script coordinator on “24” before I was hired on the staff. I had been the script coordinator for Seasons 3-5 and they gave me a freelance in Season 5, and hired me on staff for Season 6. It’s a great skill to have because it allows you to work on different shows. It’s a little hard to go back and forth, and I know that it’s mentally really hard for a lot of people; but in this economic environment, I know a lot of people who just want to get back out there and get involved and keep working.
Neely: It’s very important to keep your contacts. And if that’s a way you can keep your contacts, there’s no downside to it. Unfortunately most people feel that others will start judging them if they take a step backwards. But this is all about staying in the game.
Nicole: Thank you. I agree. Originally I had to really decide if this was something I wanted to do and if it made sense. Once I swallowed that and made my decision, it was fine. I was good with it. I think it was a very good idea because the longer you sit out, the harder it is to feel current, the harder it is to get back in. I do think it was a very good decision because not only am I feeling current and feeling part of the current season, but I’m meeting really incredible writers and other incredible people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Neely: My starting the blog was my effort to stay relevant when there were no jobs. I’m enjoying it enormously because it brings me in contact with the most amazing writers.
Nicole: I get it.
Neely: Who has helped you along the way?
Nicole: I would have to say Joel Surnow, one of the co-creators of “24.” He was really supportive of me. He was the one who sat me down when they hired me on the staff and gave me some serious guidance. We used to do what we called the prequels to each season as an extra for the DVD set, and my first assignment was to write the prequel for that season. I went off and wrote this long-winded, trying-too-hard outline. Joel read it and he took me into the writers’ room and sat me down and just said, “No. Here’s what I need you to do.” And he walked me through exactly what he wanted and he noted every draft; we went through several until I got it right. It was, in all honesty, the best mentoring I could have gotten. It was invaluable to the rest of my run there. It really really helped me figure out how they wanted it done. Even though I’d been on the show (as the script coordinator) and had read every script, it’s still a little different when you’re doing the writing. You need a little switch to turn on that goes “Yes, that makes sense. I get that.” He was amazing. I also have a writers’ group and dozens of writer friends. They’ve all given me boundless advice and guidance over the years; it’s something we all do for each other.
Neely: What do you read? Any writers from whom you’ve taken particular inspiration?
Nicole: I love to read but I’ve had so little time lately. My father offered me a free subscription to “Newsweek” and I took it because I need to keep up; I’ve already got 5 issues sitting on my table waiting to be read.
Neely: (laughs) That’s not exactly like having 5 issues of “The New Yorker.”
Nicole: (laughs) This is why I don’t subscribe to magazines or newspapers. I never have time. But when I do read, I love novels. I read mostly fiction – Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Chuck Palahniuk who I think is brilliant. Recently, The last book I read – I read it in about a week because I’d checked it out of the library (which is the best encouragement to read something fast) – was the Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan “Strain” series. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.
Neely: I’m not.
Nicole: They’re on the third book of a trilogy. It’s a really good vampire series – very dark and very well written. And I love William Goldman’s books on the business.
Neely: Going back into the past, what would you say were books that particularly influenced you or stayed with you?
Nicole: Particularly influenced me? Stayed with me would definitely be To Kill a Mockingbird. I had never read it in high school and I got on a kick after college where I decided to try and read a lot of the novels that most people had read in school but that I never had. I wanted to bone up on the things I didn’t know. My attitude was that I was going to try to read this, but it’s literature and it’s probably going to be laborious. Maybe I’d get through it and maybe I wouldn’t. I just zipped through it. It’s amazing, as you know. And another book that really stuck with me that I pulled out to reread when I had the time was A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It’s just incredible. He fashioned one of the most amazing anti-hero protagonists – such a great character.
Neely: What do you watch in your spare time?
Nicole: Right now I’m catching up on “The Wire.”
Neely: …I’m taping it right now also. That series shows up on the lists of more of the writers that I’ve interviewed than any other series.
Nicole: If you work in this business, you need to familiarize yourself with what most people say is some of the best writing that’s ever been on TV. I didn’t catch it on HBO, so now that DirectTV is running it, it’s perfect because I can watch it every week, like regular series television. Now I’ll be able to be in the conversation, to know what everyone has been talking about for years. I’m also loving “Friday Night Lights” and “Justified.” When I watch those shows and the commercial break comes on, all I can think is “please, just have one more act… don’t be over yet.”
Neely: “Justified” is my favorite show on TV right now.
Nicole: At the beginning I thought it was really slow burn. And then, just like “The Wire,” you just have to keep up with it. Stay with it a few episodes and you’ll be rewarded.
Neely: It’s all character writing. The things that happen, happen to characters; characters don’t happen to them.
Nicole: I thought at the beginning they were aiming for a “criminal of the week” show where Raylan had to be a Federal Marshal and go pick up some bad guy; but then they realized that this show was about Raylan and Boyd and families. It’s really good.
Neely: It follows the Leonard short story, “Fire in the Hole.” In a metaphorical sense, it was about the characters and the explosion that occurs when the fire of one character hits the gasoline of the other.
Any particular film favorites this season?
Nicole: It might be cliché to say but I thought “The Social Network” was amazing and so was Aaron Sorkin’s writing. How do you make what was basically a deposition in flashback so compelling? I don’t know, but he pulled it out. Just off the top of my head, I thought “Inception” was incredibly inventive. “Memento” is still my favorite Nolan film, but I applaud him for his ambition. I think he’s one of the most brilliant filmmakers out there for what he tries and what he puts together. Even if it’s not always 100% there, it’s so ambitious. I love that.
Neely: I thought “Inception” was interesting, but it felt more like an exercise in trying to be interesting as opposed to “Memento” which was brilliant in both story and execution. My husband hated “Inception;” for me, I was mesmerized by the visual effects. But in the end I didn’t think it was about anything.
Nicole: It got a tad confusing, but still I applaud and respect his ambition. I enjoyed it.
Neely: Obviously members of the WGA felt the same way since they awarded him best original screenplay.
Nicole: In a similar way, if we go back to other writers, Charlie Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is one of my favorite movies. I guess I’m a glass half empty kind of gal because sometimes when I see great scripts that inspire people, all I can think is that I’ll never write anything that good. That’s how I feel about that particular script.
Neely: That’s a great choice to have as a past favorite. This year was a pretty amazing year in terms of film writing. I highly recommend “The King’s Speech.”
Nicole: That’s so funny because I thought you were going to say that. I have heard that from so many different people now that I’m going to have to see it. Subject matter-wise, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but, like “The Wire,” when you hear from enough people that it’s that good, you have to see it.
Neely: It was one of my first “Neely Recommends” on the blog.
Nicole: So that was your first choice?
Neely: Yes, “The King’s Speech” is my first choice of the year. I also really liked “The Social Network,” and I don’t think it’s cliché at all just because everybody likes it. There’s a reason why everybody likes it. It’s a brilliant script and Jesse Eisenberg gave an amazing, complex and layered performance. If not for “The King’s Speech,” then everything about “The Social Network” would have been my favorite.
Nicole: Interesting because they are so different.
Neely: It is apples and oranges. But Colin Firth is beyond amazing.
But let’s go back to “The Wizard of Exeter Hall,” If no one is willing to look at this again as a TV series, I really think that this is a franchise and could be developed into a killer young-adult series, one that would subsequently get Hollywood’s attention as a film series, or even as that television series you already have in mind.
Nicole: I hadn’t thought of that at all. I’ve been so focused on screenwriting, but it’s such an interesting idea. I do love young-adult books. I may be emotionally stunted, but I would love to attempt something like that. I think my fear is, again, time. I would love to imagine that I had the time to write a book series.
Neely: You do it by putting one foot in front of the other – a step at a time. It’s not about being intimidated about the amount of time the whole thing is going take, it’s about how much further away it becomes when you don’t take that small initial step forward. You don’t have to start and finish it tomorrow. Maybe you just start with an outline or think it through a bit better. I liked how you talked about the timeframe as the entrance into adulthood.
Nicole: I wanted him to be 18.
Neely: And that’s great because it appeals to high school and college students. There’s such a gap between what is specifically aimed at them and the so-called “adult” genre. There’s such a void right now in young adult series fiction. This is fantasy and so much fun; and yet there’s still plenty of psycho-drama.
Nicole: That’s so nice to hear. You try to make something rich enough that it would go forward for enough seasons. But it’s so nice to hear that you think there’s enough richness in this Milton world that this could be fulfilling as a book series.
Neely: There’s plenty there. And the nice thing about a book is that there’s all that nice exposition that you never get see in a series. When you’re creating a world in a book, it can be so much richer.
Nicole: I wrote a short story a couple of seasons ago, and I didn’t realize how much I missed writing prose. Just writing descriptive prose is such a lovely exercise.
Neely: Well you almost have your first book within that pilot script.
Nicole: I’d have to really think on that. It’s a really interesting idea.
Neely: You don’t have a whole lot more to do. You have to think about your ending – the portal to the next book. You have to expand on the ripple in the atmosphere and create an ongoing threat that is more than Campbell’s friend Matt’s inhabitation by evil forces. But most of what you need for that first book is right there in that first script.
Switching gears again, and even though we know that you’re working as the script coordinator on “Hawaii 5-0,” but if you had the choice of any (or several) series to write for, what would it be?
Nicole: Of course “Hawaii 5-0,” but as I said, I love “Justified,” and I also like “Walking Dead” (surprise, surprise), “Friday Night Lights,” and I’ve been a fan of “Dexter” since the beginning. And if I could go back in time, I would kill to write on “Freaks and Geeks.” That would be my pedestal show.
Neely: As well it should be for everyone.
What are you writing right now? Are you writing any pilots?
Nicole: Yeah. I am writing a more mainstream detective series. It’s mainstream because it’s a detective series, but it has my sense of humor and there’s a little bit of a gimmick to set it apart. I think it’s a pretty cool premise if I can pull it off. I’m in the midst of a rewrite, so it remains to be seen.
Neely: I love your style and would love to read more. I have my fingers crossed for you and hope you’ll stay in touch. And please, please, please think about that book series. Thanks for spending the time.