Joey Hartstone, Screenwriter-Novelist-Episode #302

Jul 2, 2024 | 0 comments

“I’m looking at this script, LBJ, as my whole career rests on the outcome of this, whether or not it becomes a movie. And Bryan Cranston is lurking in the shadows making what becomes a Tony-winning play. And we’re just thinking, he’s killing us. Bryan Cranston is out there absolutely killing us. This is my dream, and it’s going to be ruined by Walter White.”
~Joey Hartstone

The phenomenal screenwriter and novelist, Joey Hartstone, had his first two feature films directed by no less than Rob Reiner. The first film, “LBJ“, which was named to Hollywood’s highly respected Black List in 2014, starred Woody Harrelson as Lyndon B. Johnson.  Joey’s second feature, “Shock and Awe,” featured Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Biel, and Milla Jovovich.

He was a member of the writing staff for the first two seasons of “The Good Fight.” He is currently the showrunner and an executive producer of Showtime’s “Your Honor,” starring a favorite StoryBeat guest, Bryan Cranston.

Joey’s debut novel, “The Local,” a legal thriller about an East Texas patent attorney’s first murder case, was published in the spring of 2022 by Doubleday, and is being developed as a series with CBS Studios and King Size Productions. I’ve read “The Local” and can tell you it’s a brilliant, fast-paced, thoroughly entertaining legal murder mystery very much in the vein of John Grisham and Scott Turow. I highly recommend “The Local” to you and am very glad that it’s being developed for TV. Who knew Intellectual Property law could be so exciting?

Joey and his wife, Abby, are adapting the book “In the Blood: How Two Outsiders Solved a Centuries-Old Medical Mystery and Took on the US Army,” as a feature film with Star Thrower Entertainment.

For the record, Joey and I have known one another for many years having graduated together from UCLA’s famed MFA in Screenwriting program.




Read the Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat:

Joey Hartstone: But in the process of writing the script, we started to get word. Oh, there’s a play with Bryan Cranston on Broadway. There’s one that everybody loves. Now Spielberg is going to option, and now it’s going to be a movie. And so every step of the way, I’m looking at this script, LBJ, as my whole career rests on the outcome of this, whether or not it becomes a movie. And Bryan Cranston is lurking in the shadows making what becomes a Tony winning play. And we’re just thinking, he’s killing us. Bryan Cranston is out there absolutely killing us. This is my dream, and it’s going to be ruined by Walter White.

Announcer: This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat Beat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and Entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, the phenomenal screenwriter and novelist Joey Hartstone had his first two feature films directed by no less than Rob Reiner. The first film, LBJ, which was named to Hollywood’s highly respected blacklist in 2014, starred Woody Harrelson as LBJ. Joeys second feature, Shock and Awe, featured Woody Harrelson, James Marston, Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Beale, and Mila Jovovich. He was a member of the writing staff for the first two seasons of the Good Fight, and he is currently the showrunner and an executive producer of Showtime’s Your Honor, starring a favorite StoryBeat beat guest, Bryan Cranston. Joeys debut novel, The Local, a legal thriller about an East Texas patent attorneys first murder case, was published in the spring of 2022 by Doubleday and is being developed as a series with CBS Studios and King Size Productions. I’ve read The Local and can tell you it’s a brilliant, fast paced, thoroughly entertaining legal murder mystery very much in the vein of John Grisham and Scott Turow. I highly recommend the local to you and am very glad that it’s being developed for tv. Who knew intellectual property law could be so exciting? Joey and his wife Abby are adapting the book In the Blood: How Two Outsiders Solved a Centuries-Old Medical M as a feature film with Star Thrower Entertainment. For the record, Joey and I have known one another for many years, having graduated together from UCLA’s famed MFA in screenwriting program. So for all those reasons and many more, it’s a truly great pleasure for me to welcome my friend, the multitalented writer and producer Joey Hartstone to StoryBeat today. Joey, thanks so much for joining me.

Joey Hartstone: Thanks for having me, Steve. It’s great to be here.

Steve Cuden: It’s a real great pleasure to have you here. So let’s go back in time a little bit. Where did you start to get the bug for writing and writing mysteries and law stuff? Where did that all begin?

Joey Hartstone: The very end of my college career. I had gone to school thinking that I was going to go to law school and become a lawyer and get into politics, maybe. And I worked for my father on his congressional campaign, his failed congressional campaign, and hated the experience. and so by the time my senior year came, I just knew I didn’t want to go to law school and do that. and we had a visiting professor at Brandeis where I went to school, who was coming from UCLA, and he was a screenwriter. And so I took our first screenwriting class that they ever offered at that school and just fell in love with it and moved out to LA the next year.

Steve Cuden: So you didn’t, as a little kid, you were not, like, totally fascinated by movies and tv, that you wanted to be in the arts?

Joey Hartstone: I loved movies from the moment, but I was a little baby and I would just stare at the screen if it was on. I would watch anything my entire childhood. no, so I loved, I just, I was from Flagstaff, Arizona. I didn’t know anybody who ever actually made their living in Hollywood. so it just honestly didn’t occur to me that there were jobs to be had in this industry. And so it wasn’t until I got to college and really started thinking about it and started taking some film courses and then finally took this writing course and, fell in love with it.

Steve Cuden: And so as an undergrad, you were a poli sci major? Yeah.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. Yep.

Steve Cuden: So you had some interest in politics prior to all of this?

Joey Hartstone: That’s what I thought I really wanted to do. but, I mean, I often say this, but I think I wanted to do politics. Politics or law. But then it turned out that what I really wanted to do was write. Try to write like John Grisham or a few good men or things like that. That’s why I loved the law, was because I love movies and stories and books about the law.

Steve Cuden: So were you writing in high school and were you writing as a kid?

Joey Hartstone: Not really. I guess I think it is how I, would express myself, even if I didn’t do this professionally, I certainly would feel overwhelmed with emotion, and that is what I would do. I didn’t play the guitar or do other forms of art. I did like to write, but it didn’t occur to me to really, really, really pursue this until late in college.

Steve Cuden: But once you started into it, it really took. Yeah, yeah.

Joey Hartstone: Kind of. There was like a perfect kind of coming together of a few things. One was we had ethernet at college, and we had this fast speed, kind of intra web, and someone had loaded the, first four seasons of the West wing up. And so when I was at college, it was hard to watch television. you know, I wasn’t watching NBC Wednesday nights or whenever the West Wing aired, so I got to catch up on the first four seasons, and that was so watching those every single night. And just that, for me, like, hearing sorkin’s words, it’s like I can see and hear what dialogue is supposed to be or what I would love it to be. And then I started minoring in film, and then I took the screenwriting course. So a few things happened all at once, and I realized this is what my love in Life is, is to try to be a screenwriter.

Steve Cuden: Well, if you are going to attach yourself to thinking like Aaron Sorkin, you’re already in the right place.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, it’s. I think, I honestly think the longer I go, the more I. The less I try to write like him. But I think you have to have those, you know, you have to have those, those inspirations and those people that you want to try to sound like. and if you pick someone great and you fall a little short, you’re still probably in good shape, so.

Steve Cuden: Well, yeah, but we all have to start emulating somebody somewhere. Very few people, as young people, are formed as writers. It takes a while, right?

Joey Hartstone: Yes.

Steve Cuden: And do you feel now that your voice has come out, do you feel like your voice is your voice?

Joey Hartstone: yeah, I think in some ways I think less about it. I mean, people like Sorkin and Mamet are people. They’re very, very in your face.

Steve Cuden: Yes.

Joey Hartstone: So I’ve had to dial that back because if you can’t do what they do as well as they do it, it’s obviously bad because the way they write is very obvious. And so I think whether it was the movies I was working on and collaborators weren’t trying to kind of platform that dialogue that way or whatever it was, I had to sort of try different techniques and then ultimately realize that I’m not setting out to try to write to sound like those guys.

Steve Cuden: No, you’re trying to sound like what you need it to sound like. And frankly, you’re selling yourself just a half step short because, your honor, you’re very much in our face. It’s really good.

Joey Hartstone: Well, there’s a line in, walk the line, where, June Carter says to Johnny cash, how’d you find your sound? Steady like a freight train? Slow like a razor or sharp like a razor? And he says, we’d play play faster if we could. And that’s kind of how I feel. Not to compare my writing to Johnny Cash, but that’s how I feel at this point. I’m trying to improve, but I kind of write just after 15 or 20 years of doing it. You sort of write the way that you write and you hope that other people like it.

Steve Cuden: So what I guess I’m saying to you, I was waiting for you to be less modest, but you very much have your voice. It’s clearly you. And it has a certain ring to it, and it’s very tense and terse and tight. So all those things are very, very good. Do you think of yourself at this point as writer, or do you think of yourself more as a screenwriter or a novelist? Do you have a thought in your head as to what you think of your Outfront Persona is.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, I think of myself as a screenwriter. I’m very happy that I got a book published. hopefully I will get to do that some other time in the future. But I almost feel, I still kind of feel like a fraud. Like if I’m doing an author talk or something like that, or if someone says the word author, I’m a screenwriter. I got lucky enough to make a book, but, I don’t read enough to warrant being called an author. I’ve watched enough film and television in my Life to at least, have put that to use in my real career.

Steve Cuden: So you have a little case of imposter syndrome over being a novelist, then?

Joey Hartstone: Oh, yeah. I mean, well, people would often ask, so what were your inspirations for this book? And a lot of mine are like the firm and the pelican brief and presumed innocent. And you’ll start to notice a pattern with most of these books that they also have film adaptations to them. And so while I have certainly read a lot of those books and then went on to read other tarot and Grisham Connolly books, usually I found them, via Tom Cruise or some other actor.

Steve Cuden: Well, there’s no question that the local reads like a movie. I wouldn’t call it an academic exercise. It’s a thriller, and it reads like a movie, like, you’ve written a very detailed outline for a movie, though it’s way deeper than an outline. So tell the listeners who don’t know what it’s about. I mentioned a little bit of it in the intro, but explain what the local is about.

Joey Hartstone: I think you had a better logline than I’ve ever used, which was, I think you said, a patent lawyer tries his first murder case, which was the most succinct. I’ve never done it that quickly, but, yeah, it’s about a patent lawyer in East Texas in a real town called Marshall, which is sort of one of the epicenters of intellectual property law in this country. And so he’s sort of a hotshot lawyer with a very niche, ability, and field and his corporate client gets accused of killing someone close to him. And so he has to become a criminal defense attorney for, this one case. And so, yeah, so that’s kind of the basic premise of the local.

Steve Cuden: So how did you figure out how to write patent law or intellectual property law into a thriller?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, so I have a friend named Nathan who’s an intellectual property lawyer, and he’s the one that told me about this town. And so when he told me, there’s this little town, and every major corporation in the world gets sued here, and they hate that they get sued here, but they do. And that all these big white shoe law firms have to try all these cases here, but they all have to add a local patent attorney from Texas, because those people speak the language and they can communicate with the jurors. I thought, well, here’s a great setting and a great character. And then it was one of those, you know, you kick around ideas sort of in the background a lot. And so this one, I kicked around a lot, but I always loved it. And I kept trying to think, like, okay, what’s the patent law case that I can hang a, season of television on or a movie? And finally, I just threw in the towel, even though I find patent law and intellectual property law very interesting. And I said, what if I kill somebody? And then I thought, all right, who should I kill? And how does he end up defending the person accused? And then it was more. It was off to the races a lot quicker, which is why, you know, the firm is about a tax attorney, but then it’s got the mob, and his life is in danger, so. Well, but, the one thing that I wanted to do different from that was I really like. And this is why I like Michael Connolly’s books a lot like the Lincoln lawyer books. I really wanted to see the lawyer in the courtroom, and now a tax lawyer is not going to try a case. So that made sense for the firm. But even if there’s things happening outside of the courthouse, I wanted to see this person’s skills, on display.

Steve Cuden: So I want to be a little bit clearer for the listeners who don’t know what intellectual property law is. I’m not in it, but I’ve dealt with intellectual property and contracts and all that for my entire career, so I have a pretty good layman’s understanding of intellectual property law. Tell us what you think intellectual property law is and why people should pay attention to it.

Joey Hartstone: Sure. So, broadly, it’s copyrights, it’s patents, it’s things like that. So, in East Texas, in this particular courthouse, we’re talking about patent infringement. So we’re talking about companies that are accused of infringing on other companies patents. And so, you know, if you’re an inventor, you own the patent on something, and then you think that Apple or Amazon or any of these companies are using a piece of your idea, your intellectual property, you can sue them. And 20 years ago, it became m very popular to sue in east Texas.

Steve Cuden: And do you think that your poli side background helped you because it gave you at least an insight into how politics functions in a small town like that? To a certain extent, there’s small town politics going on in your book.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, I think, I’d like that. I can draw upon, hopefully, something I learned as a poli sci major. And as I was hoping to go to law school, and then also being from Flagstaff, I was from a town that was about the size of Marshall, Texas. So anytime I found myself not knowing about this setting and what might happen in this location, I just sort of cheated. And I wrote about what my hometown was like and the, authenticity of that rung. True.

Steve Cuden: Well, no one would really know unless they were truly into the specific details of Marshall. And how many people are there that are that so?

Joey Hartstone: Right.

Steve Cuden: And I wouldn’t have known the difference, though. Someone from Marshall might have known the difference. How did you know? Even though you wanted to be a lawyer, how did you know so much about law? Did you have to do a lot of research?

Joey Hartstone: I did. my father was a lawyer. I have a lot of lawyers in the family and a lot of lawyer friends, including the one who gave me the idea for this so, yeah, I just pester every lawyer in my family with questions as I develop stories that are based in the law. And in particular, my aunt Kathy, who is a criminal defense attorney for about 40 years in California. Anytime I have an idea, I get her on the phone and bother her for hours on end asking her questions. And then I did it with this. And she read several drafts of the book, and she would give me feedback and help me kind of crack the case. She even visited, the writers room of your honor a couple of times. So if you’re unlucky enough to be a family or friend, and you’re a lawyer in my life, then probably annoyed you at some point.

Steve Cuden: They’re unlucky, but you’re very lucky.

Joey Hartstone: Exactly. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: I mean, the fact that you could turn to people that you know and are familiar with and ask them their opinion about things, that’s really a big deal.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, it was super helpful because I did go to Marshall. I met with a few attorneys there, and that was certainly invaluable. But, you know, in a couple hours of a conversation, you’re going to get some amazing things you couldn’t get elsewhere, but they’re not going to be as open and easy to interact with and pitch ideas to.

Steve Cuden: So you didn’t spend a lot of time in law libraries or digging through the Internet for stuff. It was really people you were talking to.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. so, like I said, I went to Marshall for a handful of days. I got to see a trial there or watch a few. Few days of a trial. and then I wanted to go back one more time before I really started in the outlining process. But, Covid hit, and I didn’t have anything else to write. I wanted to write this, and I thought, okay, well, I know I have the time, even if I haven’t done as much of the research as I want. So I’m gonna have to, you know, read up on the Internet and then just try to cheat and Google Earth things that I would have otherwise liked to have driven by and then stepped out and seen. But I, think hopefully I did enough.

Steve Cuden: All right, so when you started, the process of doing a novel is clearly similar in some ways to writing a screenplay or a screen story, especially the type of work that you specialize in. Yet it’s different. What would you say are, ah, the serious differences between developing a novel and developing a screenplay?

Joey Hartstone: The length, that was probably the biggest. When I conceived of this idea, I originally thought of it as a feature. Then I wanted to pitch it as a tv series, then Covid hit. And the thing with the tv series, you can conceive of it, an entire season, but usually what happens is at best, you get to write one episode. So you write the beginning, and then you have all these great ideas that you want to infuse into the next nine episodes, and then usually you don’t get picked up and you never get to write that stuff. And so when I was doing. When I was thinking of this idea for the local, one thing that struck me was I really wanted to write the whole thing. And I got sad at the notion that even, in a good scenario, I was likely to sell the idea and not get to finish it. So because I had the time, I thought, well, I’ll try it as a novel, and if it just serves as a basis for helping me pitch a series, that’s fine. But at least I’ll have the fulfillment that a writer gets from finishing something. And I can write. I can. You know, if this. If you’re doing a legal mystery and you’re doing it the correct way, you’re going to plot out most of the mystery and you’re going to know all the twists and turns and things like that. And so to only write the pilot but know all of that stuff just felt really discouraging to me. So I wanted to write the whole thing. So it felt more like plotting out about six episodes of television or, two movies. So it was a bit longer than anything I had written before, but very similar, like you say, in the outlining process.

Steve Cuden: So as you’re working to perhaps bring it to television, do you foresee that the book itself becomes an entire season, or is it short of a season?

Joey Hartstone: The book would be a season. So I did talking about inspirations. Michael Connolly was kind of the inspiration, the Lincoln lawyer was kind of the inspiration for that was the book that I saw, that I wanted to emulate. And in a lot of the Michael Connelly shows that are ten episodes, they take two books. For the Lincoln lawyers, they’re taking just one. But for all the Bosch seasons, they take two Bosch books, and make it ten episodes. So I only have one book, and it’s about the same length as all of those books. So it’s not enough for a full season of television. But I’m using it, hopefully, as the skeleton, and I think that’ll be good. Hopefully there’ll be a writer’s room and we’ll get to expand stories, look into other aspects of other characters. This is told in the first person. So it’s very focused on the main character.

Steve Cuden: Sure it is.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. So it’s gonna. I think the beginning and ends are sort of where they are, but everything else will be expanded and moved around to tell a. To tell a, hopefully a ten episode.

Steve Cuden: So aside from the length of this, the big difference being that it is a lot longer than writing a screenplay. And a screenplay has to be terse and very tight anyway. And a book, you can be a little more expansive and go develop certain things and character things and so on. But would you say that your method for developing the structure of the book is similar to structuring a screenplay? Are you looking at seven plot points and that kind of thing?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, I did it exactly the same way. I actually do. You and I were talking before about Fred Rubin, who was a teacher at UCLA. He taught television writing because he was a television writer. And I was not particularly interested in tv writing. But I took two of his classes, and he taught very intense outlining, as they do in tv. And that’s really the class where I learned how to outline for, not only for television, but I applied what he taught me to film. So I do much longer outlines for my feature scripts than I think most people do. Because I like the idea they do in tv where they throw in dialogue and they throw in other ideas that they have for scenes. it’s not meant to be as concise as maybe a feature outline would be. So I did the exact same thing that I do for a feature tv show.

Steve Cuden: I’m willing to bet James Cameron has you beat on that, though probably.

Joey Hartstone: I’m not trying to set a record, but my hope is that I try to do most of what I feel like is really the difficult work and the grunt work in the outline. And then when I go from outline to script, my hope is that I don’t have to look at anything other than my outline. And then that affords me the freedom to be creative in the moment. Because I have a very, very clear roadmap of what I’m trying to do, or at least what I thought I was going to try to do.

Steve Cuden: All right. So how long did it take you to develop the outline for the book?

Joey Hartstone: When I really started going with it, it was probably two to three months.

Steve Cuden: Two to three months?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: And is this pretty much every day or five days a week, that kind of thing?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, it was definitely. It was every day. I don’t like to take days off. And we didn’t have children back then, so it was easy to not take days off. So, yes, because I just, I feel like it’s like exercise where if I take days off, I’m a little sluggish back into it. so, yeah, so it was every day for, I think, two and a half or three months. And my outlining always takes longer than writing my first draft.

Steve Cuden: Well, sure, because if you’ve really done a really good job of that outline, that first draft should just happen.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, it’s very fast.

Steve Cuden: It’s almost like you’re filling in blanks is almost what it’s like. So then once you had this outline, how long did it take you to write the book?

Joey Hartstone: I think it was about a month. I mean, and then certainly a ton of rewriting. But to get that first draft, it was about a month, I think.

Steve Cuden: A month. So that’s really fast. What’s 280 pages, something like that?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, it was like, I think, 93,000 words, I think was the final draft. So, yeah, so it’s one of those where it’s like, I had the idea, I thought about the idea for a couple years. I got serious about it for five or six months, and then I sat down to write the outline and then the first draft. And that was a four or five month process all in.

Steve Cuden: Clearly, you can’t spend that kind of time working on a television episode that’s much faster, correct?

Joey Hartstone: Usually, yeah. yeah. I’m thinking most of the television end up writing is our pilots. So if you write, pilots, you should spend some time. But, yeah, once you’re into a tv show, you’re talking weeks.

Steve Cuden: Well, when you’re doing your honor, you can’t spend months developing an outline for one episode.

Joey Hartstone: No, definitely not. You’re, your months in, your months involve eight episodes in various phases of incarnation.

Steve Cuden: Sure. And how much rewriting did you do for the local? For the local?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, I did a handful of months. It was far easier than writing films and television. So the first person I gave it to was my wife, Abby. She gave me a lot of notes, as she always does, and she’s a fantastic writer and certainly honest with me. And so I get some difficult notes. so getting past that is always a real hurdle because she’s a tough critic in a really good way. Then I gave it to a woman named Rachel Dillon fried, who became my agent. She’s our friend, but she also became my book agent. she sent it out, and once I had an editor, the editor said to me, I’m going to give you a bunch of notes. They’re just notes. I understand that this is your baby. You can take or leave any notes that you don’t like. They’re just suggestions, and anyone who’s ever worked in film and television will understand that that is not the mandate, from on high, when you’re talking to executives or directors or stars. So it was so easy, in comparison.

Steve Cuden: Well, of course it is, because there is a real difference, I think, and you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, there’s a real difference in the fact that you’re working in this cauldron of humans on a show versus you’re writing a novel. That’s your novel, and someone else is looking at it and giving you their feedback and opinion, but they, unless they’re really very much involved in some way, they’re not going to have ownership of it the way that you do.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. Yeah. And so that was really fun because I try to embrace the collaborative process. I love that. I think, you know, I pity the person who hates collaboration and then wants to be a screenwriter.

Steve Cuden: Oh, no kidding.

Joey Hartstone: But then, but it, but, so it was fun to sort of take a break from that and just, just tell a simpler version of a story that I wanted to tell.

Steve Cuden: And you had the, I guess the joy to have the freedom to tell what you wanted to tell with no one else giving you their thoughts every step of the way.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. So, there was a joy to that. It was very interesting to do.

Steve Cuden: All right, so what are a few of the things that a novelist must do? What did you need to do that helped you to secure a chance at publication, versus a, television show, which is a totally different animal when you’re trying to get it to that next place. What are the things that a novelist ought to consider to do?

Joey Hartstone: I’m not going to have great advice here. I was very fortunate. So one was, I was already a professional writer, so I think it’s much easier to jump into, you know, if you’re a professional novelist, it’s probably a lot easier to become a screenwriter than if you’re just an aspiring screenwriter. And so as an aspiring novelist, but as a professional screenwriter, I was going to be taken seriously kind of immediately. And like I said, my wife went to school with the woman who had become my book agent, so I knew someone. I already had a contact. I sent her my script, or, sorry, my manuscript, very quickly. and she liked it. And then, I think, you know, I wasn’t hiding the fact that I wanted this to be a tv series, and it’s a business. And so I think people who were reading it, you know, publishers, editors who were reading it, if a book gets, you know, gets turned into a movie or a, television show, that’s. That’s very helpful for book sales. And so I probably brought a slightly better than average chance at this book becoming a tv series than a non screenwriter.

Steve Cuden: In other words, if you had never worked on a television show in your life and had never sold a screenplay to anyone in your life, if you’d written this as your first piece, this novel, it would have probably been a lot more challenging to get a publisher interested, and certainly even more challenging to get a big name like a Doubleday interested.

Joey Hartstone: I assume I wouldn’t have had this book published. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: That’s important stuff, though. It’s helpful that one thing can lead to the next. And when you have certain credentials under your belt or credits, that’s helpful to give the people you’re approaching confidence that you actually know what you’re doing.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, definitely. And I think that it’s, for me, I think it’s a good lesson of work hard and try to have some success in something and then worry about expanding to the other things you want to do.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Joey Hartstone: Rather than try to do too many things at once, because it’s hard enough just to break into one thing. But, yeah, it definitely, once you’ve opened a door somewhere, I think it’s easier to open doors of places.

Steve Cuden: And the first things that you did were things that were your true passion being a screenwriter.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: So describe the process that you went through with the publishing house. I assume that there was a process there that somebody at the publishing house read it and then gave you some kind of feedback.

Joey Hartstone: So, you know, Rachel sent it out to a bunch of people, and Doubleday wanted to publish it. And so, yeah, I worked back and forth. I think I got two or three rounds of notes from my editor, and then there’s a copy editing back and forth that, you know, took a few passes large. I mean, it was a few years ago now, but as a screenwriter, all I can remember is the relative ease of the entire process, because it’s just not what making a film is like, and certainly not what making a television show is like.

Steve Cuden: They didn’t come to you at the publishing house and ask you to restructure things or to throw a character out or to develop some other thing. It was pretty much they were helping you to polish it so that it was perfect.

Joey Hartstone: I got very good notes. they’re very specific. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot about. There weren’t big, broad notes, and certainly note, no structural notes. They were more specific than that, but very good and very helpful.

Steve Cuden: I think that that’s something that the listeners should pay attention to, is that if you do a good job in the first place, which I’m certain you did, that’s helpful. So in a screenplay, people, sometimes, you correct me if I’m wrong again. Sometimes in screenplays, people are in a hurry, and it’s a little sloppier than you would turn into a publishing house.

Joey Hartstone: With your book, for sure. And, I mean, there are people, you certainly heard the expression, well, fill in the adjective. But, trashy draft or terrible draft or vomit draft or whatever the case may be. But a lot of people embrace that notion of just doing just sort of, you have to get that first draft out. However you do it, understand that most of it’s going to be unusable. And I hate that notion. It doesn’t work for me, first of all, I can’t make myself right and work thinking this is going to be garbage. I don’t find my way as I’m writing. Usually. I like to structure. I like to outline, and so it’s. I could write something that no one likes and is very bad. It’s not often at this point where I get a big structural note, because I spent so much time working on the structure before I started writing. So I expect that either the structure is sound, or I’ve made a colossal mistake very early on. But I like when people say that my first draft is very clean or that they rarely read a first draft that has as few typos as they find in the first draft and things like that. I take pride in my first draft, and I also. So I love a first draft because it is my only personal draft once there’s other collaborators working on it. And it’s good that other people get to work on it, but it becomes ours. And so the first draft, even though it’s never as good as the final draft, is my own personal draft. So I treasure it.

Steve Cuden: Can you tell when you’re writing your first draft that is as good as you can get it? Can you tell whether it’s going to work? Can you tell at that point?

Joey Hartstone: Not really. I mean, no, I think. I don’t know. And it’s always fun reading it, because the way I like to write, I have a sense if my outline is strong or not. But then when I’m writing, especially something as long as a book like the local, I might read the last few paragraphs that I wrote the day before, but I don’t go over it every single day. So I write, and then I go on to the next. And so the first time I read the true first draft, the really, just the first time, I read it from front to back, there’s a lot that I don’t even remember writing. so it’s a fun read, a scary read, and sometimes a frustrating read. But, yeah, it’s usually a surprise to me of either how well or how badly it’s reading to me.

Steve Cuden: It’s also helpful when you’re working on a tv show that eventually actors are going to say it out loud, and now you really know whether it works or not because they can’t get words out of their mouth or it’s really smooth.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. Yes. And you have several editing phases along the way, so, yes, you have plenty of collaborators, which is nice, because someone, if you make a real big mistake, is going to point that out to you long before you’re shooting. But you also get the chance to sort of rewrite in the edit bay and make a lot of changes along the way.

Steve Cuden: So we’ve now talked about publishing. We’re now going to talk about studio work, which you’ve done a lot of. What are the things that happen when you’re working with a studio or a network that are clearly quite different than the publishing world? And what can writers do to make that process easier?

Joey Hartstone: So I would say one thing that’s really important, I think, is m embracing the collaborative process and the fact that you’re going to get a lot of notes and that your job as a writer is to learn how to take notes and to apply them.

Steve Cuden: How do you take notes? What’s your technique?

Joey Hartstone: Well, I type down everything someone says. I take all the notes myself. Assistants are always there to type up everything. But if you’re the showrunner, I don’t think you should leave someone else’s interpretation of what the. What the head of a network just told you. it’s too important. So I write down everything myself, and then you also have to understand who you are. So who am I? I’m the person that’s going to get my feelings hurt when my wife gives me notes. I’m the person who’s going to get mad when someone tells me they don’t like something I read. And that may mean that I have to take a breath for five minutes or five days before I start, before I dig into the notes and actually start applying them. But you have to know your flaws. and I try to embrace the idea that almost all the time, if there’s a note, there’s a note, because there’s a problem. And the person who gives you the note might not have given you the correct solution, and they might not have even highlighted why the problem exists or what the real problem is. And they’ll call that the note behind the note. But it’s very rare that there’s a great line and a great scene and someone’s noting it to death. and they’re just missing the point. Usually there’s something wrong. So I try to embrace the idea that it’s always going to need notes. That’s always going to improve it, but don’t fight the notes.

Steve Cuden: I’m so glad to hear you say what you’re saying, because for years, I’ve taught, students who sometimes doubt what I’m saying to them, that the key is whether you agree with the notes or not, you take them all.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s also funny, because I’ve taught students, too, and I have often got the question, like, what do you do if you get a note that you don’t like? It’s like, well, if you’re a screenwriter, you’re taking the note. I mean, you need to try to take it and apply it in a way that both you and the note giver like the result, but you don’t have the option not to take it. And I also think it’s a bit freeing. I, mean, I like it because I think. I mean, this company is paying for this show. It’s not my show. So if they say we’re killing off a character, we’re killing off a character. I mean, that’s just sort of the way it is. And so my creativity is, can I execute that note in a way that I’m happy with?

Steve Cuden: Have you had situations where you were given a note and you had no idea how to resolve it? Has that happened for you?

Joey Hartstone: Usually from my producing partners, not from the studio or network, but, yes, it’s happened. And, I say producing partners, like, on your honor, that’s Liz Glotzer, that’s Michelle King. And these are people who read every document before anybody else reads it. and they, like my wife, will give me sort of the unvarnished notes. And so I’ve turned in an outline or two where they said, this is not an episode of television. And. And that’s hard. That’s really, really hard. And because it’s tv, not only you know, when I say I want to take five days and hide under the covers, you don’t have that in television. So, you know, you have to go through that process quickly.

Steve Cuden: You got to keep moving forward.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: Once you’re on that train and the train is going down the tracks, it doesn’t stop for you, does it?

Joey Hartstone: No, it does not.

Steve Cuden: So do you have a method for Joey Hearthstone to develop characters? It’s something you learned at, ah, UCLA, or is it something you’ve developed further since?

Joey Hartstone: It is one of the things, one of the aspects to my writing that I really want to continue to improve on because I don’t think I’m great at it. and I don’t say that with any false modesty, because I’ve gotten a lot of notes about my character development, and having just written a feature with my wife, that’s something she’s particularly good at. And we got better feedback than I’ve ever gotten on an individual script about the character development. So I’m going to try to emulate sort of what that process was when I was writing with Abby, which is honestly having conversations with Abby or someone close to me about real people. because that’s what we did. We would talk about a scene or a situation, and we would just have a long conversation about, well, who is this guy? Why is he doing what he’s doing? Why is she making this decision? And that just, I think, brought depth and realism to it. so I think I need to do that. I try to be better about that with my characters and probably having real conversations with people who have either skin in the game or just willing to give me some time and insight.

Steve Cuden: So your specialty clearly is writing something that is plot heavy, that is mysteries or thrillers or whatever it is you. I mean, your honor, is very densely plotted. It’s, not a simple plot. It’s not just tossed off. It’s really complex. And I’m just wondering, do you find that when you go to develop character that you’re still trying to make the character drive the story versus the plot drive the story?

Joey Hartstone: I’m not quite sure. I mean, honestly, because I mentioned Sorkin, the aspect of screenwriting that I really fell in love with first was dialogue. So that was what I was excited to do. I didn’t think of myself as someone who was huge into plot. And a lot of the stuff that I watch, isn’t big on plot. So, like, what?

Steve Cuden: What do you watch that isn’t big on plot?

Joey Hartstone: Well, so, like, take west wing, for example, there’s certainly an ABC story, but it is almost always two people in a room or three people in a room having very fascinating conversations using really interesting dialogue. And so that was kind of always what I was looking to do was, yes, build out a plot, but. But it’s not plotty in the sense that I didn’t think I’d be a thriller writer. that wasn’t that. That wasn’t even a genre that I was legal thriller. Yes, I suppose. But I really like straight dramas. That was kind of the. What I fell in love with the movies that made me want to write movies.

Steve Cuden: Well, the local kept driving me forward because I didn’t know what the solution was. And when the solution came, I was surprised by it. So that’s a good thing.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, well, I’m glad about that. With the character, you know, I finally come to the conclusion. I never thought I had a problem with character development. I always saw my characters as very deep and kind of well rounded people. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m a very closed off person in a lot of ways, and I think I make the same mistake with my characters. So, it’s not that I’m emotionless. I’m feeling a lot of things. I just tend to be fairly stoic, and I think I’ve made that mistake with my characters. And so people will read them, and there will be times where they’re saying, we don’t know what this person is thinking, or they seem very dispassionate. And I’m thinking, are you kidding me? That person is filled with energy or emotion or sadness right now. How does no one know that? So I think, my personal flaws have translated to my characters a little bit. And so maybe some good therapy will, help me write characters better.

Steve Cuden: Some of the greatest and most memorable and popular movies of all time feature protagonists who are stoic.

Joey Hartstone: It’s true.

Steve Cuden: I mean, you can just point to Clint Eastwood, for one.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: He’s made a career out of playing stoic characters. So I’m going to ask you a question that I ask lots of guests, and I’ll be real curious to hear your answer. What for you, then, makes a good story good? What are the characteristics of a good story for you?

Joey Hartstone: I actually do think it starts with a good character, because I will watch a character do almost anything. Abby and I were talking about this the other day, and I actually think I took a little bit of this from one of our professors at UCLA, and I can’t remember which one. Characters should have passions, and I think a character who is passionate about something is interesting, and I will watch a well thought out character be passionate about something I couldn’t care less about. So, some of my favorite movies are baseball movies, and that is a sport I refuse to watch, but I will watch moneyball every night for the rest of my Life. Or bull Durham, or, you know, because that person cares about what they’re doing. So. So I think if you can create really compelling character, they can have any job or any story, and you’ll probably follow them for quite some time.

Steve Cuden: It’s all about passion, isn’t it?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: Yeah, it really is. It’s completely about passion. So we’ve talked a lot about dialogue. What is it, then, that makes dialogue great? Why is Sorkin work, and why do others seem to work less? Well?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, I guess it depends on what your approach is. I think with someone like, what I like about Sorkin and what I like about Mameta is there is no attempt to write how people actually speak. They. They start, I think, with the contention that the way we truly converse with one another is not phenomenally interesting, and so they’re going to improve upon it. now, they have their own styles, but. So I think, for me, it’s always been that. It’s always been the ability to write conversations or interactions or arguments and make them better than they would have sound. You know, they sound as good as the stories we tell about ourselves. After we’ve told the same story for five years and we’ve polished up all the dialogue and we made ourselves sound like we had the winning lines and we had the right jabs at the right times. so I like that process. I like scripts where every line matters and every single thing someone says, there’s an intention behind it, and they say it with, you know, they say things that are clever, and they say things that they don’t mean, and you start to get a sense of why people talk the way that they do.

Steve Cuden: We’ve talked a lot about Aaron Sorkin, and I know one of his things is, which I found really fascinating and telling and really helped to inspire me quite a bit, is that when he’s writing, especially his passionate sections of things, for instance, the Jack Nicholson speech, and for a few.

Joey Hartstone: A few good men.

Steve Cuden: A few good men, I knew it was in there somewhere. But what Sorkin says is that he’s writing, and I’m paraphrasing, of course, that he’s making an argument with God.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s right. I wrote a script recently where a couple different. I mean, this happens almost every time I write, but there’s something that Sorkin is going to inspire. And there were a few things from a few good men that inspired a couple scenes. And so, yeah, I think, you know, that character Colonel Jessup, he’s not a bad guy. He’s the antagonist. He does some bad things. He makes questionable decisions. But ultimately, that speech, you know, is not some guy who couldn’t have cared less about two young marines. I was. This guy wanted to protect the country, and that’s a noble endeavor. how he went about it might not be noble, but he’s. He sort of. I think what Sorkin likes to say is that I’m going to be this person’s lawyer. I’m going to make the best argument for them. And I think that’s right. I mean, we all know that the best antagonists make for better protagonists. and so I think when you try to pay enough credit to all of your characters and make sure that they are treated properly, it elevates everything around it as well.

Steve Cuden: I think that’s absolutely true. Tell us about in the blood, how two outsiders solved a centuries old medical mystery and took on the US army. What’s that about?

Joey Hartstone: So that’s about two guys, one named Bart Gulong, who was a salesman, kind of a bit of a willy Loman character, in his fifties, around, the year 2000 or so. And he meets a guy named Frank Hersey, who is an inventor who hasn’t invented anything of particular note at this point. So they’re both sort of middle aged, still trying to have the success and fulfill the promise of their youth and that they thought they might have one day. And they start developing some oxygen generators for the military. And it turns out that Frank has a method for clotting blood that he believes will work and that no one has ever tried before. And this is a true story, obviously. And so they end up developing it and it works. and so they want to bring it to the military. right around the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, it was a time when the military would really want, something like this. But the army has its own technique, its own product, that they believe very deeply in, which turns out to not be as effective. And so it becomes this sort of David versus Goliath of these two young, scrappy or, not, sorry, not young middle aged guys who weren’t being taken seriously, but have something that potentially save a lot of lives going up against the US army and all of their money and all of their power and just trying to get in the door to prove that they have something that the military might want.

Steve Cuden: And so this has been developed as a feature.

Joey Hartstone: So, yeah, this is the one that I wrote with my wife. We finished writing it last year, at the end of last year, and it is now out with the producers and out in the world and hopefully getting some good reads.

Steve Cuden: You’re not in pre production or anything yet? It’s not. You’re trying to sell it?

Joey Hartstone: No, no, we’re just trying to sell it.

Steve Cuden: It sounds like a fascinating project. You know, I hope you can sell it.

Joey Hartstone: The book is fantastic by Charlie Barber, and, the story is really compelling, and I think Abby and I did a good job. And these are producers I’ve worked with in the past, so, they’re being very specific about who they go to and trying to find the right collaborators to hopefully make a movie.

Steve Cuden: So you clearly, at this point, know how to put something together to pitch it so that it can sell, whether it’s on a tv series or whether it’s a feature film. What thoughts do you have about ways to pitch things that are. That make it a little more successful? Probably, yeah.

Joey Hartstone: That I think that one is, for most of us, is just a lot of practice. Yeah. As I said, I’ve learned something from you about my own book today about how I should pitch it. It’s not my favorite thing to do. I think a lot of writers share that. it’s sort of a weird skill that you need as a professional writer because it has nothing to do with your ability to write.

Steve Cuden: No, none.

Joey Hartstone: And so some people, you seem like you were probably more comfortable doing it or maybe.

Steve Cuden: Oh, no, no. It’s the worst part of my game.

Joey Hartstone: Okay. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: I get all nerved out and I don’t know what I’m doing, and I get tongue tied in the whole nine yards.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. It’s awful. I used to. I used to have a point before every pitch where I would think I was going to quit the business. I would truly think, not only am I going to be unsuccessful in this pitch, but this is so agonizing that I don’t ever want to do it again. And once I recognize that, I would still have that moment, but I’d try to laugh at it and go like, okay, just give it an hour, and then you can come back and do the work. But, So, yeah, the more I do it, the more comfortable I feel, but it’s not my favorite thing by any means. and I would say to go back to the idea of passion, that’s the best thing you can do, is truly be passionate about what you want to write, because I remember early on, I. You know, when you’re passionate about just wanting a job, that comes across, too.

Steve Cuden: Yes.

Joey Hartstone: And so it’s great. The best thing I ever pitched was the Rocky series. My wife and I were going to see Creed two, and I found out she’d never seen rockies one through five or Rocky Balboa. She saw creed one. I thought, you can’t see Creed two and Ivan Drago’s son if you don’t understand, all the way up through Rocky four. So I started telling her about it, and halfway through, I thought if I could pitch my own stories with the passion and excitement with which I pitch Rocky’s stories, I’d be great. so I tried to remember that and just calm down a little bit, be a little bit less well rehearsed, and just talk about a story that I love and hope that that excitement translates to the recipient.

Steve Cuden: That really is the key part of the problem, I think, at least it is for me. And, I know it’s true for other writers, too, is that when you pitch somebody else’s work, it’s relatively easy. When you’re pitching your own work, it becomes very personal, and you get tied up in it, and you want to be perfect about it, and so it becomes precious versus. I’m just pitching this story, right?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, yeah. And you go, oh, I forgot to tell you this one really important thing that you don’t care about, but it matters a lot to me. And it’s like, you can skip a lot of that.

Steve Cuden: It’s why I can pitch the local in one line, and you’re going, how do I get there? Right?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. It’s true. You get too close to it, so.

Steve Cuden: But you actually worked with Rob Reiner, who actually did a few good men, so you got those insights as well. did you ever pick his brains about a few good men? And Aaron Sorkin?

Joey Hartstone: All the time. He was so nice. He was so nice about it when we did LBJ. He was very gracious, allowed me to be on set the entire time. I sat right next to him. He’s a very lovely man. He’ll tell stories and listen to me fan out. I love a few good men. I love the Castle rock movies. Those are the movies that I grew up on, so I was a genuine fan before I met him. And I think famous people are never sure at first, but the detail with which I could recite lines and ask him questions about movies like a few good men, I think he realized I was sincere and he would tell me stories and tell me little things about how that movie came together. And I could just cite. I could just, you know, quote a line and he would know what I was talking about. And honestly, it was also helpful because, you know, as the director, he, he helped rewrite the script. And so I had a, ah, real understanding of the types of stories he likes to tell. but we would have a shorthand. There was, there was one time on, there was a scene that took place on Air Force one, and LBJ was going to look at, the bomber jacket that JFK used to wear because he was in JFK’s private bedroom. And so I had written, you know, he opens the closet door and he looks and he sees Jack’s bomber jacket. And Rob did not talk to me about how to shoot this movie because I would know nothing. But he, for some reason he said, I’m not quite sure how we’re going to shoot that shot over Woody’s shoulder as he’s looking at a jacket. And I said, well, that’s what you did with Tom Cruise when he looked at all the stuff in his closet and realized that Willie Santiago had not packed the night before he was supposed to leave the base in Guantanamo. And he was like, oh, right, I have shot that exact shot in a movie, so that’s fine. so it came in handy there.

Steve Cuden: Well, I have had the great, good fortune to interview Kerry Elwes twice.

Joey Hartstone: Yes.

Steve Cuden: Once live on stage and once on this show. So, you know, he chatted a bunch about Rob Reiner and what a great director he was, especially on Princess Bride, which is now truly a classic. You know, of all classics, what would you say are the. Is the most valuable lesson that he taught you as you were working?

Joey Hartstone: Rob likes to say, everyone thinks you’re an idiot because people will constantly come up to the director and they’ll say, did you, did you think of this? Did you do that? And he says, everyone cares about their one thing, and it’s both the great aspect to collaboration and also, if you’re in charge, the thing that you need to manage. And, and so, he was. He. I felt like he talked to me like he hoped that I would have a career and that maybe I could use some of this. So he was always imparting wisdom, but, but, yeah, you know, the sound guy might run up to you and say, like, I think I heard a bird in the background, and maybe that that really matters. But also, the only thing the sound guy cares about while you’re shooting that shot is the sound. And so the director’s job, in that case, is to, to think about all of it. And so he just, he has a calming presence, and he’s very skilled, and he’s been doing this a very long time. But so watching him work, it taught me that when you are in a minute and more managerial, position, just take everything with a grain of salt and with, try to bring some calmness while everyone else rightly panics about their one thing.

Steve Cuden: Do you think you might want to direct someday?

Joey Hartstone: No, absolutely not. But, it’s just not something I ever thought of doing. It’s not really how I see stories. But, as a showrunner, a showrunner and a director of a film are probably in some ways, very, very similar. And so because you’re in charge of a lot of different departments, do you.

Steve Cuden: Think as a writer, as if you were directing things?

Joey Hartstone: I visualize it, for sure, but it doesn’t go. It’s a pretty simple shot that’s in my mind. I’m not thinking about how to make this the most interesting thing you would ever watch. I mean, I know there, there are some people who will mute a movie so they can just watch the photography, and I’m the opposite. You could blindfold me, and as long as I could hear the dialogue, I’ll be entertained. So my interest in film and television is not quite visual. So I don’t think that I should be behind a camera or, calling action, because I don’t think I’d enhance the story at all.

Steve Cuden: So I have to ask you about your experiences with Bryan Cranston. On your honor, clearly, I’ve had a chance to interview him twice, once live on stage and once on this show. I’m just curious. I found him to be an absolutely down to earth, pleasant, nice, professional, and a truly interesting man to talk to. What was your experience like?

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, I had a. I had the same experience. and that all those qualities are really important in the lead of a show, because he is very much the captain, in so many respects, and so he sets the tone. You know, the star of the show is going to set the tone. If the star of the show comes to work late or unprepared or has an attitude or anything like that, it will have ripple effects. But when he shows up and he is the most professional. He’s a kind man to everybody. He does his work. He knows all the people who are working around him. it just sets a good tone for everything. He’s, also an executive producer on the show, so he’s involved from, you know, the scripting process all the way through this, through the final edits. But, yeah, he cares very deeply about it. He is down to earth. I think he is who he is. I don’t think that fame has gotten to his head or anything like that. And so any care, he cares a lot. And that’s one of the, you know, if you were gonna pick two or three things that you would want in any collaborator, that would have to be one of them is you want someone who cares about the project as much as you do and wants it to succeed, wants it to be good and to mean something. And he has all that.

Steve Cuden: Well, he’s one of those guys who didn’t become famous until way into a long journeyman’s career as an actor. And so by the time he became famous, he was so grateful that he understood how to make all of these things work in a very professional way. And so you get the benefit of that, and I have no doubt that it’s a really wonderful thing to work with a guy like that.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, it is, and it’s nice. I guess that level of fame came late for him, and yet he also has had this whole career behind him, so he brings a lot of experience, too. But, yeah, I think a, combination of all that just made him a good partner on this.

Steve Cuden: Tell us about when you’re under pressure. And there’s lots of pressure in tv, especially as a producer and an executive producer. My goodness, you must have lots of pressure coming your way. What do you do to handle pressure? How do you blow it off? How do you manage it? What do you do?

Joey Hartstone: the best thing is to have a few close people around you who you can rely on for everything. So you start with your family, because your family is going to get kind of a weird brunt of all the negativity and pressure and all that stuff. and my wife was great through the showrunning process. And then my real partners are Liz Glotzer and Michelle King at king size production. Michelle and her husband Robert, are the co creators of, the good fight, the good wife evil, a lot of shows. And Liz Glotzer is their president and worked at Castle Rock for a long time. So that’s where I met her. But those are the people that read everything I write before anybody else sees it, they see everything that comes out of the writers room before any executive sees it or any actor sees it. and so you need to. You have to find people you can rely on like that and trust. And so I was blessed by being positioned with great partners. And then, yeah, it’s really all. Almost all of it’s about time and money. And as Liz says, you can’t throw more time at a problem. So you fixate on how little time there is in the day and how much you need to do. And if you can delegate, you delegate. And also you have to learn that you’re just not going to do everything you want. So prioritizing and then moving quickly, but it is, when you’re doing a season of television, especially if you’re writing and shooting at the same time, every minute of the day is accounted for.

Steve Cuden: Every minute, every single minute. There’s that old three pronged adage. You can have it good, fast, or cheap, but you can’t have all three. You can have two of those three at any time. And in a show like you’re talking about or, you know, primetime tv or showtime series or whatever, you know, you’re gonna have money, at least to more than your average bear. And, you know, you’re gonna have time to a certain extent, so you’re not gonna have it be cheap. It’s gonna be good and not cheap. Good and expensive.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, it was, Yes, it was on showtime. So, yes, we had the tools, but the time, you just never have as much time as you want. When I became showrunner in sort of a circuitous way, and basically about six months after the season had started, and we were still, we didn’t have any scripts, and they didn’t move the start date. So I think I started on April 1 or April 2. We started shooting on June 16.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah. So we had about ten weeks to go and no scripts, and we were block shooting, so we were shooting two at a time, so we needed not one, but two to be ready really, really quickly, and then two more after that and two more after that. And so it was a long and yet frighteningly short year.

Steve Cuden: You were also on season one, but not as a showrunner.

Joey Hartstone: Right, right, correct, correct.

Steve Cuden: And am I correct that when you were shooting that we were still in the pandemic or coming out of the pandemic?

Joey Hartstone: So season one. Yeah. So it was a totally different situation. I think that writers room was in 2018, but we wrote all, almost all ten episodes before, probably six or seven before Brian was cast because we had a green light for the show, and then we had, I think, all ten scripts before shooting started. And then at about episode six, the pandemic hit, so there was a shutdown for several months. So season one took probably, like, two or two and a half years to get made because of all of that, really. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: I know that when I actually interviewed Brian for this show, he was about to go back down to New Orleans as things were starting up again.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: So you’ve been shut down for a while.

Joey Hartstone: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You can’t tell when you watch season one. You can’t really tell where, other than the fact that actually is a moment where jurors are wearing masks. But aside from that, like, it’s pretty seamless. But, yeah, there was a. There was a wide, wide gap between, I think, episodes six and seven.

Steve Cuden: Well, I have been having such a fun conversation with Joey Hearthstone for around an hour at this point, we’re going to wind the show down a little bit. You’ve clearly had plenty of wonderful experiences in the business, and I’m wondering, in all of your experiences, can you share with us a story that’s either weird, quirky, offbeat, strange, or just plain funny?

Joey Hartstone: I have worked with two Lyndon Johnson’s. One was Woody Harrelson. One was Bryan Cranston. So the script that I wrote, lbJ, that was. That was the first thing I wrote that got produced. So it started to get some attention. Rob Reiner signed on to direct. we had a financier, we had producers. Everyone was ready to go. And Woody. Rob had been talking to Woody for quite some time. And so we were all waiting on Woody Harrelson to either say yes or to pass. And this went on for several. For a very, very long time, several months. But in the process of writing the script, we started to get word. Oh, there’s a, there’s a play that’s coming out. And then it was, oh, there’s a play with Bryan Cranston. And then as we’re submitting drafts and drafts, it’s. There’s a play with Bryan Cranston on Broadway. There’s one that everybody loves. Now Spielberg is going to option, and now it’s going to be a movie. And so every step of the way, I’m looking at this script, LBJ, as my whole career, rests on the outcome of this, whether or not it becomes a movie. And. And Bryan Cranston is lurking in the shadows, making what becomes a Tony winning play. And then ultimately all the way with HBO. so it’s also on screen, and we’re just thinking, he’s killing us. Bryan Cranston is out there absolutely killing us. This is my dream, and it’s going to be ruined by Walter White. And then what actually happened was, Woody and Brian connected somehow. And they talked on the phone and Woody was saying, you know, you don’t want to be the second person to do this. And I also don’t want to be compared to you. You’ve already played Lyndon Johnson, now on Broadway at this point, and done very, very well. You’ve gotten rave reviews. And Brian actually said, you know, this is a really big character. There’s room for a lot of different interpretations, and you’ll love playing him. And he not only gave him the green light, but he encouraged him to do it. and this was unbeknownst to me for several years, but it turned out the guy who I thought was going to kill my career actually saved it and encouraged the star of the movie to make the movie. And then I had the pleasure of working with him several years later.

Steve Cuden: Wow. How about that? That’s, some form of kismet that doesn’t happen every day. That’s true. Synchronicity and luck all sort of conspiring at the same time. That’s a great story All right, so last question for you today. Joey, you’ve already shared with us a huge amount of really great information, much advice, and I’m wondering, do you have a solid piece of advice or a tip that you like to give to people who are starting out or maybe they’re in the business and trying to get to that next level for.

Joey Hartstone: People who are trying to break in, especially as screenwriters. My one, I hope this is a foolproof piece of advice, is the more good writing you do, the more chances you’re going to give yourself to get lucky and be successful? and I say that, because some people try to write a lot, but they only write first drafts, and some people try to polish that masterpiece for ten or 15 years. And I think both ways can kind of lead you astray. And so I think I try to look at every piece of writing as a lottery ticket or a chance to get recognized or noticed or get lucky. And so the more of those you give yourself, the better they have to be good. But don’t, you know, hopefully great, but they don’t have to be the most precious thing in the world because you’re going to write something next. So keep writing and keep producing material.

Steve Cuden: Well, I think that’s really spectacular advice, especially because maybe a little bit different with novels, but for sure, in tv, you can’t be precious with it. You’ve got to bang it out. You got to make it as good as you can get it, and then, you know, hope that the gods are in your favor on it. And that’s really as best as you can do because you’re not going to spend months and months and months dwelling on one episode of a show. It’s just going to go like we talked about earlier. I think that’s really terrific advice. Joey Hartstone this has been just so much fun for me to chat with you and to see you today. And I can’t thank you enough for being a guest on the show today. And hopefully we get a chance to see one another in person one of these days.

Joey Hartstone: Again, I would love it. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great to see you.

Steve Cuden: and so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat, StoryBeat. If you like this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you are listening to? Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat beat episodes to you. StoryBeat Beat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartradio, Tunein, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve and may all your stories be unforgettable.


Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


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