22 May 2012
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King
As we pick up again, lots has happened. A&E in their “infinite wisdom” has decided not to renew “Breakout Kings” for a third season. Instead, Nick has signed an overall deal with CBS to develop new series with them. His first assignment will be as co-executive on “Vegas.”
Nick has also supplied us with a video of a scene he produced and directed that will give you a taste of how he envisions Fifteen Digits.
Neely: What are you reading right now?
Nick: I’m writing right now.
Neely: So what’s the last book you read?
Nick: I’m a big fan of the author John Fante. He was from LA and has been dead for quite some time now, but I’m reading his biography, which is really dense and really thick. He’s a guy who no one really appreciated when he was alive…
Neely: …there seems to be a big resurgence in John Fante right now.
Nick: Yes, there is. And Full of Life by Fante was given to me as a gift by the actor Michael Rappaport. He said, “If anyone’s going to like this book, it’s going to be you. Read it.” I read it and all I could think was, “Where has this guy been all my life?” It’s an Italian American story, which is obviously something that is dear to my heart. And it’s a story of an Italian artist. I wish I were as good an artist as John Fante.
Neely: Who are some of your other favorite authors?
Nick: Lorenzo Carcaterra – I really liked Sleepers. He’s also a pal. I enjoy reading non-fiction… (Stephen) Ambrose.
Neely: My current favorite in the non-fiction category is In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larsen. He also wrote Devil in the White City.
Nick: Oh. Yeah! Everyone talks about Devil in the White City.
Neely: Devil in the White City is spectacular, but In the Garden of the Beasts has more resonance in terms of time, because it’s about the Nazis. It’s one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read, even though it’s already 70 years past and you know the outcome. You still want to say, “Stop them!”
Nick: The time doesn’t matter. I can’t bear it… I don’t know if you saw “X-Men: First Class,” but the beginning of the film shows the young boy being separated from his parents as the Nazis are loading the trains. And I literally have to go like this (shields his eyes). I know there are cameras there; I know it’s an actor. The problem is that I know that it actually happened at one point…
Neely: … it’s like a movie or a book where a kid gets killed. As a parent I can’t take it.
Nick: I have trouble with that too, but I am able to realize it was made up. But the reason I can’t watch or read Nazi stuff is because I know that it actually happened. My grandfather was in World War II; he stormed the beaches; he served under Patton and so did both of his brothers, my great Uncles Frank and Joe. All three came home, amazingly.
Afterwards the soldiers were sent to some of the camps to help… a humanitarian mission. And my grandfather saw stuff that he wouldn’t talk about. It’s unbelievable that it happened. And I think it’s important to show those things in films so that people don’t forget it happened but I still have trouble watching it. I know that’s sissy. I should be able to watch it.
Nick: No. I understand that completely. My grandfather was in a camp. Luckily my grandmother was smart enough to leave with my mother before they were taken. I had lunch yesterday with a good friend who had been sent to Auschwitz as a child and the Nazis had tried to separate her from her mother and she successfully clung to her mother without getting them both killed on the spot, which is what they were doing. So I understand that completely. I can’t watch Holocaust movies.
Nick: I’ve never seen “Schindler’s List.” I’ve seen bits and pieces but I have to turn it off. I know it’s acting and performing, but to me it’s a recreation of something that was real and it freaks me out and upsets me and it angers me because I know… Well there’s a great joke by a black comedian who said, “I getta kick outta my friends today who say, ‘I’d like to see someone try to put me on a slave ship…’ ‘Really? They would have cracked the whip once and you would have said ‘Where do you want me to go, sir?’” It’s so easy for people to say, “Oh. I would never let that happen today.” But when men with machine guns show up at your door and say, “Walk outside.” You walk outside. Because all it is is about living another second.
It’s terrifying and I can’t get through those movies because to me they’re re-creations of what really happened. Just can’t get through them. My grandfather kept a Nazi flag that he tore down and brought to America. It was in the trunk of his basement. When I was a teenager and we were down there for something and he took it out and he showed it to me. And I said, “Grandpa, why do you have that?” And he said, “Because if people in this country ever forget, I will run it up the flagpole and say ‘This could have been flying over every country in the world.’ So don’t forget what happened.” People who went over there really know the evil. And people who had to live in those camps, really know the evil. We’re safe now and we forget it, but I can’t watch them.
Neely: As they say, You Must Never Forget.
Nick: No. No. That was Satan on earth.
Neely: Well, that’s In the Garden of the Beasts. It is about… it’s always about what they did to the Jews and what they did to everyone else. I guess what’s still frightening about it is that even though it took place in the early to mid 30s, we knew. We were being informed about what was happening by a very hapless ambassador to Berlin. And yet we did nothing. But I can understand why that might not be top on your list.
What about movies? What have you been to see in the recent past?
Nick: I just saw “Jeff Who Lives at Home” and I thought it was absolutely delightful. I liked it. You didn’t like it?
Neely: Not so much.
Nick: I thought it was delightful; I thought it was cute. I thought it was what it was supposed to be – a fun movie.
Neely: I had actually been looking forward to it; I thought it had potential. My problem with it was that the characters, other than the character of Jeff… Jason Segal is amazing. That face is one of the most expressive out there.
Nick: I’m a huge Jason Segal fan.
Neely: The difficulty for me was that there was absolutely no character development. None of it is situational. Ed Helms’ character transforms from a pretty bad guy to all of a sudden, essentially without motivation or interim movement, to a good guy with “aha I get it.” That doesn’t happen.
Nick: It was formulaic.
Neely: It was formulaic, but it didn’t hook me. I had to look at it critically because I reviewed it, but I was really disappointed…
Neely: …yes. Because it was full of possibilities and character was missing. There was no organic character development whatsoever.
Nick: It’s funny but I went in and didn’t even know what the movie was about. We had a babysitter and we were out, and that was good enough for us… we never go out. It was playing at a little Indie theater near our house. I love it; it’s two theaters. When you leave, these high school students hand you a bowl of mints. It’s like living back in the 1950s (not that I was alive back then). I went in, not even knowing what it was about; I just knew it was Jason Segal and Ed Helms and I like them so much. I didn’t even know that Sarandon was in it and I love her. But it entertained me for an hour and a half. I wasn’t expecting much…
Neely: I’m sure more people agree with you than agree with me. I did love “Five-Year Engagement” (note: check the review link under “Neely Uncensored”).
Nick: I did recently see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Neely: The American one or the Swedish?
Nick: The American one with Rooney Mara and I did enjoy it although I felt like some of the investigative beats were a little too simple.
Neely: See the Swedish one.
Nick: I remember thinking at one point, “I don’t think that would have gotten out of my writers’ room – okay he tracked the photos to find this piece of information and he tracked other photos to something else. It was a little too easy. But I did really love Rooney Mara’s performance. But the brutality in some of the scenes… I had to look away.
Neely: OMG, they soften some of that for the American version.
Nick: Yeah. I wouldn’t want to see that.
Neely: It’s one of those things where, yeah, they softened it but they also softened all the characters edges. It may not seem that way, but compared to the original, they softened the characters’ edges and that wasn’t a good thing. But I was surprised. I expected not to like the American version because I loved the original, but I found the American version to be well done, just disappointing. The assumption is always that an American audience can’t take the hard edges.
Nick: Right. But you know what, it may very likely have been noted that way.
Neely: I’m sure. But in any case, it was pretty good. And anything that has Stellan Skarsgard in it…
Nick: What else have I seen recently? I saw “The Artist.” I’ve seen all the kids’ movies. I’ve got a 3-year old.
Neely: So you saw “Hugo.”
Nick: I saw “Hugo” with my 8-year old. She was 7 at the time and it was a little over her head. I thought it was absolutely visually stunning. We also saw “The Lorax” recently. I see a lot of the kids’ movies.
Neely: That one did not get a good review from me.
Nick: I’m a huge fan of “The Incredibles” which I think is one of the coolest films I’ve seen in a long time. I almost wish it could have been made live-action with the same look. I love “Monsters, Inc.”
Neely: Those films had good scripts. “Lorax” didn’t know what it wanted to be.
Nick: At the end of the day, “Lorax” felt to me like a really long public service announcement.
Neely: (laughing loudly) …with a High School Musical dance number and Danny DeVito miscast as a soft furry creature.
Nick: I’m a huge DeVito fan because one of my favorite shows ever is “Taxi” and I love “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Louie DePalma in “Taxi” is one of the best characters ever. And I’m addicted to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I watch it every night when I get home. I go to sleep to it… I wind up watching five episodes before I fall asleep.
My favorite movie of all time is a film called “Mac.” It was co-written and directed by John Turturro. It’s just fantastic and beautiful. It’s a love letter to the working man.
Neely: What do you watch on TV?
Nick: No dramas except for “Boardwalk Empire.” Even if it wasn’t incredibly well written, I could watch it just to look at it. The production values are so great. I think Terry Winter is one of the best TV writers ever. And also one of the nicest human beings you’d ever want to meet in your life. A total gentleman.
I love “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia;” I love “The League.” I watch “The Office,” I watch “30 Rock.” I love the show “American Pickers” on the History Channel (Neely starts laughing). I tell my wife that I swear I’m going to quit this life and become a picker because when I was a little kid I used to collect garbage from the neighbors’ garbage cans. I took an old ironing board once and put wheels on it. My dad came home from work one day and saw me riding down the street in New York on an ironing board with my friend Tracy Martin, a girl from the neighborhood, sitting behind me. I had a rope on the wheels and I was trying to steer it down the street. Think my father was going to kill me. But I love “American Pickers.” I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it; it’s a great show. I also watch “Workaholics” on Comedy Central.
I don’t like to watch dramas because I know the tricks. You can see them coming from a mile away. You’ll know just based on who they cast who the bad guy is because you know he’s not going to do a small part.
Neely: What about past favorites? What shows were influential?
Nick: “The Sopranos,” obviously. It was the first produced credit I ever had. David Chase changed my life. That wouldn’t happen today. It was ten years ago. A guy with no credits – I had no credits. I was working in a personal injury law firm in Brooklyn and he read a script that I wrote that won a film festival and said, basically, “I like the cut of your jib, kid. Write an episode.” And it was ridiculous. Haven’t spoken to him since, haven’t seen him since. The guy changes my life, like a little magical fairy who sprinkled fairy dust on me and flew away. I’ll always be appreciative.
I loved the first few seasons of “The Practice” so much because it really showed how hard it was to be a lawyer. When they started getting really successful on the show, it was like, “Oh no! Don’t become those guys! I hate those guys.” I was Jimmy the Grunt. I went from a giant corporate massive law firm to a guy on a billboard with my arms folded, looking tough. I was on a billboard in the Bronx with a phone number underneath it that said 1-888-I Can Sue. I swear to god.
Neely: (choking) I believe you. I do.
Nick: That number still exists. You can call it tomorrow. As a matter of fact, if any of your readers call it, tell them you were referred by Nick Santora. I’ll get a piece of the case. (Neely giggling) I’m still licensed.
Anyway, I loved those first few seasons. I loved the last seasons too, but the first few seasons really spoke to me.
What other shows? “The Wire.” And I watched every episode of “6 Feet Under,” though I did enjoy the first seasons a little bit more. But people say that all the time. People said that about “Prison Break.” They said the show lost its way. And I want to say to them, “You know what? It’s hard to get a hundred episodes out of a show. It’s hard to get six seasons out of a show. It really really is. And things come up that you don’t know about. Like, “How come you wrote this character out?” “The actress was pregnant, buddy. We didn’t have her for six months. What do you want us to do?” And they get mad at you for all of these reasons. People don’t understand why “quote unquote” creative decisions are made.
I’m not a huge unscripted person, even though I created “Beauty and the Geek.” I do like “So You Think You Can Dance.” Not “Dancing with the Stars.” I like “So You Think You Can Dance” because to me it’s like watching incredible storytelling through dance. It’s not like “American Idol,” which I hate because it’s bad Karaoke. Some of those people are very good singers, most are mediocre at best. You can pick up any backup singer on “Madonna’s” tour or anyone who sings in Vegas backing up Gladys Knight and they’re better than anyone on “American Idol.” But “So You Think You Can Dance,” those are some of the best dancers in the world. They are phenomenal; they’re telling stories; and they’re incredible athletes. It’s like watching art and sports. It’s unreal what these people can do with their bodies and I love that show.
Neely: I actually agree with you. It’s one of the only reality shows I’ve ever watched. When Ken Miller, a great casting director on so many of the Kelley shows (and all of Chuck Lorre’s) told me that he had been a dancer (a Broadway gypsy) and that he loved the show, it inspired me to watch it. I did, however, quit watching when they decided to expand it.
Nick: They contracted again. They’re not going to do those huge results shows.
Neely: I want dance; I don’t want to listen to those judges. I just want to see them dance. And I know a lot of dancers who feel the same way.
Nick: Yes. I couldn’t agree with you more.
Neely: It’s pure dance. Dance is my favorite art form because it incorporates the movement, the storytelling and the music. It’s a 3-in-1 bonanza.
Nick: It’s wonderful dance and the choreography is phenomenal. I feel the same exact way. And last season I stopped watching because it was just like a results show. They give less coverage to the Presidential primary. Election night doesn’t drag on as long as the result shows. I stopped watching because it was annoying; but supposedly they’re contracting it this year.
Neely: What have you got coming up that you can talk about?
Nick: I have my pilot called “Raiding Party,” which did not get picked up at FBC (again). But it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, honestly. We’ve already gotten some incoming calls from a few places that might be interested in it – nothing I can talk about.
Neely: …CBS, it you’re reading this…
Nick: (laughing) I absolutely love this pilot and I know what the first 5 years will be. I sincerely hope it goes somewhere.
I have something else I’m very excited about – I just sold my first comedy feature that I’m writing with Adam Carolla called “The Professional Loser.” I probably violated stalking statutes and just harassed the CEO of the Harlem Globetrotters, a really nice man named Kurt Schneider, until he agreed to let us have the rights to the Globetrotters so we could make this film. It’s a comedy that really highlights the Globetrotters and the incredible family entertainment they provide, but tells it from the point of view of the Captain of the Washington Generals. So it’s called “The Professional Loser” and it’s really funny and I’m writing and producing it with Adam Carolla, who I just think is a comic genius.
Neely: Well, I’m no less of a fan-atic than I’ve ever been about you and your writing. Thanks for spending the time and know that I’ll read whatever you throw my way.
Nick: I’m glad we finally met. I think it’s hysterical that you read something I wrote 10 years ago and that we’re finally sitting down. It’s cool.