What was the biggest challenge and benefit of moving from LA to Austin six years ago?
At the time of my move, I had a television project set up that would’ve shot in Austin. That was the dream. Live and work here. Raise my family here. But a regime change at STARZ made that project go away, and the predictable challenge of living here is that I’ve spent a ton of my time in Los Angeles and on airplanes rather than here with my family. It’s tough to convince a studio to shoot in Austin when Louisiana and New Mexico have such better tax breaks.
The biggest benefit of living in Austin is that I’m in a city I love. My kids go to a great public elementary a couple blocks from our house. I feel like I can make half the money and live as well as I did in Los Angeles which allows me to say no to projects that I’m not eager to do. That was one of my biggest goals when I left Los Angeles — never put myself in a position where I couldn’t walk away from the money.
Out of the projects you have been working on while living in Texas, what has been the most testing setback you’ve encountered?
I’d written a pilot for STARZ about an Austin rock band. I was going to track them from formation through stardom using SXSW as the season finale each season. I played in a band for nine years. I may have had a tough time writing the latter season “stardom” episodes, but I know a ton about band dynamics in a struggling band. I loved the script. I had great relationships with the executives at STARZ. We’d just done two seasons of Party Down, and they were incredibly hands off creatively, while simultaneously being very supportive. But as I’m closing the sale on my house in LA, the network president stepped down, a new regime came in, and they had incredible success with the swords and breasts recipe of Spartacus, and the whole network shifted in that direction. Not only did I lose the shot of doing my band show, they dropped Party Down which shocked all of us doing that show.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the pitch to pilot process?
It’s much easier to get the idea that they want to put on the air than trying to convince them that they can reinvent their network with your pet project. I’m not saying it’s not worth taking stabs at your dream project, but if they buy it with any hesitation, you will be pushing a boulder up a very long hill.
Recently, you’ve seen a great deal of success on multiple projects. How has that changed your perspective on the industry?
It’s really reinforced something I already knew. It’s easier to get things made when you’re getting things made. It’s a business of peaks and valleys, and when you’re riding high, it seems like you can get any project off the ground. I’ve had a couple deep and ugly troughs in my career, though, and that feeds on itself as well. They both become self-fulfilling prophecies. I’m trying very hard to learn lessons from my previous cycles and make some smarter choices than I have in the past when things opened up for me.
How did your work on the Veronica Mars show, movie, web series, and books inform iZombie, if at all?
By raising much of our own money for the Veronica Mars movie on Kickstarter, I got the leverage I needed to get be allowed to direct a feature film. And because the movie did well, I was allowed to direct the iZombie pilot. That was big for me. Also, when Warner Brothers brought me the iZombie comic book, what they said they wanted was the next great CW heroine. They said they wanted the next Buffy or Veronica. Joss Whedon seems pretty busy these days, so it was a short list of people to bring that Buffy/Veronica spirit to life.
Who is your screenwriting idol?
I’m a fan of a ton of screenwriters. I send fan mail to Vince Gilligan every year, and it pisses me off, because he’s a few years younger than me. But the writers who I feel influenced me the most would be James Brooks and Cameron Crowe. I think there’s a very similar rhythm to Broadcast News, Jerry McGuire, Almost Famous, As Good as it Gets. It’s a rhythm to which I aspire. They write great romantic comedy, but it’s barely about the romance. Say Anything is the teen movie I wish I’d written.
What is your favorite thing about Austin, Texas?
Everyone I knew and socialized with in Los Angeles was “in the business.” There’s nothing wrong with that. I didn’t leave LA because of the people, but Austin has an ideal blend of people in the arts and people in education and government and high tech, etc. It’s not quite so entertainment-centric. Plus I have family and friends here. And finally, I didn’t want my kids growing up wearing big designer sunglasses like the kids on Laguna Beach.
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