Jeffrey Lieber– Writer: NCIS: New Orleans/ Lucifer/ Necessary Roughness Creator: Lost/ Miami Medical
What advice do you have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?
Learning how to write screenplays should never be more important than living an interesting life, especially because most jobs come as much from your personal narrative as from your talent. Yes, you must understand structure and form and drama and dialogue, but if you’ve got no voice… no particular unique perspective… you’ll just get lost in the sea of other people who have studied the craft but have nothing to say.
What was your first job in the industry? What did you learn from it?
My first job was as an associate producer on an R-Rated video game. There were a lot of photos of breasts and dildos and my job was to manage the assets. It mostly taught me to multi-task between what I needed to do to survive/make rent (meaning work) and what I needed to do to eventually break out (meaning write). So, I learned to get up at 5:30 AM and write until 8 AM then go to work (on breast photos)… then write at lunch… then go back to work (now on dildo photos)… then come home and try and get some more writing in.
What is your writing process like?
I spend a lot of time on structure. I write a lot in prose as if what I was working toward was a novel. Here’s a scene I like. Here’s a character that speaks to me. I try as hard as possible to hold off on writing real script pages until I’ve got it mostly figured out. Writing into the unknown is laborious and mostly fruitless.
What do you think is the most important skill to have as a showrunner?
Calm. There are always 300,000 things going on at once and it’s easy to get swept up in the madness. I try — but often don’t succeed — to lay out a plan at the start of the day and move through that plan, knowing there will be three or four things that’ll knock me off my path. But I expect that. I expect for things to go wrong. They’re actually part of the plan and since I know they’re coming… even if I have no idea what they are… they, mostly, sorta, kinda don’t make me crazy.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever written?
A bunch of scripts that have never gotten made. There was a show that was basically Boogie Nights set in the world of Stunt Men/Women in the early 70’s. There was also a show about a failed attempt at Mount Everest that was half adventure/half murder mystery. It’s really hard to both get things MADE and get things made that you, yourself, WANT TO WATCH. So, I jump back and forth between commercial jobs that will send my children to college and artistic projects that I can hope and pray over.
What shows made you fall in love with television? What shows are you currently loving?
I’m always way behind. When I’m making television I mostly don’t have time for watching television. So, I just found and devoured Black Mirror. Also, I caught the last season of Nurse Jackie, which I thought was a brutally honest look at what it’s like to be in proximity to addicts. I tried Westworld, but that felt like one of those shows where they knew they had to have a meeting to figure shit out… but that meeting never really got scheduled. As for what made me fall in love with TV, I grew up before TV was REALLY good. Meaning, if you try and make a list of hour dramas before 2000 that you can recommend from start to finish… it’s hard to get to a dozen. After 2000, there may be 50. So, I grew up on Magnum PI and St. Elsewhere and Twilight Zone and even Fantasy Island. All more entertainment than soul food, but, hey… they entertained me.