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Michael Colleary has been a screenwriter, producer, educator and screenwriting consultant for more than 3 decades. He earned an MFA from the UCLA film school where he won the Jack Nicholson Award and the William Morris Award for screenwriting excellence.

Michael has worked for all the major movie studios and TV networks. His credits include Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the family comedy Firehouse Dog; and the TV series Unnatural History. Michael won a Saturn Award for co-writing with Mike Werb the highly popular John Woo-directed action thriller Face/Off, starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. The New York Times deemed it, “one of the best 1000 movies ever made.”

Since the mid-1990s Michael has been a visiting instructor for the MFA in Screenwriting program at UCLA where he teaches the famed 434 screenwriting workshop. For the record, I had the great pleasure of meeting Michael when I was a grad student in UCLA’s screenwriting program more than a decade ago. His students have gone on to write, direct and/or produce such movies and television series as The Bad Batch, Patriot, Bojack Horseman, The Punisher and many more. For his tireless contributions to the program, UCLA honored him with the prestigious Lew and Pamela Hunter/Jonathan and Janice Zakin Chair in Screenwriting.

Currently Michael is the co-creator and showrunner for the television series Professionals starring Tom Welling and Brendan Fraser which recently wrapped production in South Africa for a 2020 premiere.

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STORYBEAT WITH STEVE CUDEN

STEVE CUDEN INTERVIEWS WRITER-PRODUCER MICHAEL COLLEARY – TRANSCRIPT

ANNOUNCER:

This is StoryBeat storytellers on storytelling, an exploration into how master storytellers and artists develop and build brilliant stories and works of art that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators of all kinds 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 Center for Media Innovation on the campus of Point Park University in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, Michael Colleary has been a screenwriter, producer, educator and screenwriting consultant for more than three decades. He earned an MFA from the UCLA Film School where he won the Jack Nicholson Award and the William Morris Award for screenwriting excellence. Michael has worked for all the major movie studios and TV networks. His credits include Lara Croft Tomb Raider, the family comedy Firehouse Dog, and the TV series Unnatural History. Michael won a Saturn Award for co-writing with Mike Werb, the highly popular John Woo directed action, thriller Face/Off starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. The New York Times deemed it one of the best thousand movies ever made. Since the mid 1990s, Michael has been a visiting instructor for the MFA and screenwriting program at UCLA, where he teaches the famed 434 screenwriting workshop.

For the record. I had the great pleasure of meeting Michael when I was a grad student in UCLA’s screenwriting program more than 10 years ago. His students have gone on to write, direct and/or produce such movies and television series as The Bad Batch, Patriot, BoJack Horseman, The Punisher, and many more. For his tireless contributions to the program, UCLA honored him with the prestigious Lew and Pamela Hunter/Jonathan and Janice Zakin Chair in Screenwriting. Currently, Michael is the co-creator and showrunner for the television series Professionals, starring Tom Welling and Brendan Fraser, which recently wrapped production in South Africa for a 2020 premier. For those reasons and so many more, I’m truly thrilled beyond words to have one of the great masters of screenwriting, Michael Colleary on StoryBeat today. Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Colleary:

Thank you. Thank you so much. And that actually sounded very impressive. For someone who generally works in his pajamas, that sounded really good.

Steve Cuden:

Did you ever shoot an elephant in your pajamas? All right, so what were your earliest inspirations and influences? What was your first creative love? How did you get down this road?

Michael Colleary:

I think everyone’s journey is unique. Mine was perhaps destined slightly. My dad was a TV writer and producer his whole career.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, is that right.

Michael Colleary:

And he started off in the early days of television back in New York when really there really was no industry yet, it was still developing. But anyway, he ended up being the head writer of Captain Kangaroo, which is your younger listeners may not recall the Captain, but certainly baby boomers would. It was sort of a kind of a Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street type daily show for children, that was made out of New York. So I definitely grew up, although my dad was like a lot of dads and just went into the New York City every day to work, on the bus and came home every day, pretty standard, middle class, suburban upbringing.

Michael Colleary:

It was also kind of an industry family. He had the summers off and we went away. So we definitely had a very lovely lifestyle growing up, thanks to him being in the television business and in show business. So I think when you grow up in that environment, maybe you just absorb it naturally. I didn’t want to be in the industry when I went through high school and stuff, I wanted to be a journalist and I first went to college to be a journalist. It was really just kind of by accident that I fell into, I just fell in love with the movies. Unfortunately, when you go to … Not unfortunately, but fortunately, or unfortunately, I found when I was an undergrad, when I went to college, there were free movies everywhere. In the student union, in the dormitories and film programs and all this stuff. So I just, I was goofing off a lot and I just ended up going to the movies all the time and I just really fell in love with the movie. So that’s how I ended up kind of steering my way in, into this business.

Steve Cuden:

What was the first movie you remember having an influence on you?

Michael Colleary:

Oh my gosh. The first movie, and to this day, it still resonates with me believe it or not, was the original Batman. Now I was a kid. I was born in 1960. So I was at six or seven when the Batman TV show was on with Adam West, back in the mid 60s. And then they made a film. They made a movie that came out like the summer of ’66 or something like that. I will never forget the feeling I had in my gut when I was sitting in the theater in Bay Head, New Jersey, when I realized that all the Batman villains from the TV episodes were now in the same movie, because usually they went week to week. There was the Joker, the Riddler, whoever one villain a week on the TV show, but in the movie they were all in the movie and it just seemed like an insurmountable level of bad guys that Batman, he would never be able to handle all of that evil. Yeah, that made a big impression on me even to this day. I still remember as a kid, it was maybe the first time in the movie where I felt so connected to what was going on that I actually was afraid for Batman and Robin, which I think was the point. Which was, I think what they were trying to create. That’s how they got me.

Steve Cuden:

Sure. You had a true young person’s visceral experience on that.

Michael Colleary:

Yes, I did. I did. Actually I saw a similar thing in my daughter many, many, many years later when my daughter, she was a little younger. She was maybe three or four and we went to see, oh, what was that wonderful movie with Amy? Enchanted with Amy Adams is that one?

Steve Cuden:

I think it is called Enchanted.

Michael Colleary:

Is that what it was called?

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, I think so.

Michael Colleary:

Enchanted, yeah. And we went to see it at the Crest Theater here in Hollywood, in L.A. We sat in the balcony and she got so into the movie, she was in her Disney princess outfit. She was sitting next to me in the movie and she got so into the movie that at the end, when the Dragon’s flying around and there’s all this kind of action, she literally lept at the screen and like I had to grab her from going over the balcony. She was so engaged in this whole thing. So I have definitely seen it in my kids too. It actually is a wonderful, it’s what makes it so gratifying, really, if you’re fortunate enough to evoke that in people. That’s the magic part.

Steve Cuden:

That is the part that we drag people into that world and they get lost in it because they have such a deep sense of feeling about it.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah. And it’s very gratifying. Well, I know it’s great to see it in a movie. It must be fantastic to watch it in the actual theater. I’m assuming you spent a many, many evening or afternoon watching, sitting in the audience or standing in the back, watching people respond in the theater. I think what a thrill that must be.

Steve Cuden:

It’s an extraordinary thing. Especially the very first time or times when an audience live is watching a live performance and they’re on their feet at the end. That’s just, it’s chilling. And so it’s fun.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, oh I get it. I bet. That must be unbelievably gratifying.

Steve Cuden:

It truly is. All right. I mean, your father was a writer I’m working with Bob Keeshan and Lumpy Brannum and all those good people. When-

Michael Colleary:

Yes. Yeah, yeah. Now this was the ’60s. This was the mad men era in a way. And they would come over. My father apparently was famous for his martini and we would have the cast of Captain Kangaroo over. Not Keeshan so much, apparently he kept to himself a little bit. Keeshan was it a bit of a Michael Scott kind of figure I think among the cast and crew.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, is that right?

Michael Colleary:

A little bit, yeah. I mean, not as needy, but maybe more like the Michael Scott in the English The Office. But anyway, but my dad was very close with Lumpy Brannum and Gus Allegretti who did all the puppets. And the other writers, my dad’s gone now, but the other writers on the show are still family friends to this day-

Steve Cuden:

That’s really neat.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

So, obviously you had this influence in your life, but when did you think to yourself? “Hm, I think I would like to do that. I’d like to write.” When did you start to write?

Michael Colleary:

I was in college. I had a difficult kind of chaotic … I don’t know if it’s that difficult, but let’s just say I had a bit of a chaotic undergraduate experience, I was very restless. I didn’t really know what I was doing with my life, although I really loved the journalism part, but I ended up, I started off actually going to the journalism school at Temple University, not far from where you are. They had a great journalism program, but my whole family lives in California and I felt it was not fair of me, when there are such great colleges in California, I felt, “You know what? I can’t ask my parents,” because they weren’t well off by any means. My father was working really hard in California to make it after we moved out from New York. And I said, “You know what? I can’t say at Temple University and have my parents pay out of state fees, it’s just not fair and it’s just not worth it.”

Michael Colleary:

So anyway, so I ended up at Berkeley and this is the time when like I said, this was the early ’80s, so this became kind of like the movie brats generation. Suddenly everybody wanted to go to film school and be George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I mean, there was a real excitement around going to this new kind of phenomenon of the film school. The people who went to film school then made it in the business. I just got drawn into all of that. Pretty much all my close friends at Berkeley, well by all, I mean maybe three or four kids, they all ended up at UCLA film school.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, is that right?

Michael Colleary:

It was bizarre. Yeah. So by then-

Steve Cuden:

So you were on a similar flight path then with all these other kids.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, exactly. I think I just got swept along by the kind of big demographic cultural under undertow, but it’s not like I wasn’t interested. I certainly was. I definitely changed, my whole passion was about going to the movies every night and talking about movies and all that. I mean, Berkeley didn’t really have a film program, but they had tons of classes on film criticism and stuff like that and screening classes. And so that was really my education on movies, on cinema. That’s really where I learned all about the world of cinema and then was fortunate enough to get into UCLA film school when frankly, there’s no way by the qualification standards that are today, there’s no way I would get in today with the puny little portfolio I had. They have really, because I think so many people are following this light.

Michael Colleary:

What I found interesting about, about UCLA over the years versus a student and then as a teacher was that when I started, it really was a bunch of kids like me who pretty much went from undergraduate to graduate. We’re in our early 20s. Most of us hadn’t really had much life experience, but we just did have this passion for movies. Well, when I started teaching some years after that, by then the nature of the student body had changed. It was people who were a little older in their late 20s or early 30s. Many of them had had very successful careers in other fields. There were lawyers, and the federal prosecutor and artists and people who had done just really amazing things, they we’re making the change and were applying to UCLA film school. So it’s interesting how those things do evolve and do continually change over time. So anyway, I was very fortunate to have gone when I went and learned what I learned. But the business is very different. The school is very different now. And then the industry, the craft is very different.

Steve Cuden:

Well, we’re going to get to the difference in the industry from then, till now in just a bit. But let’s stick with how we get where you got. So what was it, did you meet Mike Werb in school?

Michael Colleary:

I did. Yeah. Mike is my writing partner for many years. Mike and I entered UCLA at the same time. If Mike was on the podcast he would say the reason that we actually became close friends was we both lived in the Valley in the San Fernando Valley. Which is, your listeners don’t know, is sort of over this Hill from where UCLA is. It’s not easy, certainly back then, there was no public transport to speak of. He had sold his car to, in order to be able to afford the tuition and so he tracked me down in the Valley and I would get him rides from the valley from time to time, which I at first really resented, because I didn’t really know this person and it was not in my nature to ask for favors. It’s still not. But, eventually he won me over, because he’s a very charming, brilliant guy and-

Steve Cuden:

Yes, yes he is.

Michael Colleary:

… we became friends. Film school friends and friends.

Steve Cuden:

Did you begin to write together in school or after?

Michael Colleary:

No not at all. In fact, in film school, everyone kind of did their own thing. We had a lot of classes together and we did end up after we got out starting a little writer’s group with another writer from UCLA, who we were friendly with. But at that time, we were not of a mind to be writing partners. I don’t think anyone thought in those terms. But it was kind of an accident actually. What ended up happening was we got out of school, Mike started working while he was still in school as a writer and then a couple of years later, I sold a spec. So by that point, we were kind of editing each others stuff. We were each other’s support system.

Steve Cuden:

That’s important, isn’t it?

Michael Colleary:

He was working on, for example, he got hired to write the story of Machine Gun Kelly. That was his big break. It was going to be a big movie, it never got made, unfortunately. But before he would submit his work to the studio, he would give it to me to proofread and I would do the same with the script I had sold to MGM. I would give it to him to proofread and get notes, et cetera. So we tried to keep that UCLA 434 workshop vibe going after we had gotten out of school. Anyway, but we were really helping each other out. And at that time, as I’m sure you recall, it was the golden age of spec sales.

Michael Colleary:

This is the year of Shane Black selling Lethal Weapon, and a lot of movies that never got made, but the scripts still sold for a million dollars. We thought, “Well, we can do this.” So we got together one day, one weekend really, and just said, “Well, what kind of movie would we like to write? What are these movies that are selling for a ton of money?” Big action, Joel Silver kind of movies. So we said, “Well, let’s try to figure something out.” And he talked over a long weekend and that’s what led to Face/Off. That’s how Face/Off got made, not made, but written in any case.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah. So, obviously it didn’t get made immediately, how-

Michael Colleary:

No, no, no.

Steve Cuden:

… how long was it? All right, so let’s back up. We’ll come to how long it was between completing whatever you think of as your draft to go out, your marketable draft and selling it and having a movie made, how long did that take? Was it years and years or was it-

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, it took years and years, and it had quite a journey. We started working on it, I want to say in 1990. It’s like July. I think we got together to July 4th weekend or Memorial Day weekend in 1990. We sat there in his office for like three or four days and just talked and talked and talked and talked about what we wanted to do and what could it be. At that time, the mandate in Hollywood was by now Die Hard had come out. So every studio was looking for their variation of Die Hard.

Steve Cuden:

Die Hard.

Michael Colleary:

So we were trying to think of, “Well what would our Die Hard be?” We started out with, “Well, there hasn’t been a prison movie in a long time.” So we had done research about the Attica riots and all these terrible prison riots. We thought, “Well, let’s do like Die Hard in a prison.” The first few iterations of that were undercover cop goes into a prison with a fake identity to get information about somebody and then while he’s in there, there’s a riot and he’s caught up in this riot and he needs to survive. That was basically the genesis of it.

Michael Colleary:

Then Mike actually said, “That’s pretty grim. What if it’s in the future and the prisons in the future are future prison, that would be cool.” And so that’s really where kind of the discussion started and we sort of backed into the whole identity swap from there. It took a few days to kind of back into that idea and then it was so crazy. We thought, “well, it has to be far in the future to justify face swapping et cetera.”

Michael:

… Face, face swapping, et cetera. So, it definitely was a process, a creative process that was chaotic and lots of ups and downs and blind alleys that got us to finally what the movie should have been. Now, we then wrote a draft over that summer and Mike’s say agents… Because I didn’t even have an agent. Mike’s agency took it out in January, and we auctioned it to Warner Brothers at that time.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael:

And it sat at Warner Brothers for a couple of years, and they really weren’t interested in it. Ironically, Joel Silver was the producer. Joel Silver’s company is the one who brought it into Warner’s, but they really were never that supportive at Warner Brothers. They didn’t understand it. One executive even said, “Well, how are you going to do this movie? The makeup is not nearly sophisticated enough to make one person look like the other.” And we were like, “Dude, it’s the same actor. They just switch roles.” It was a lot of that. There’s a lot of that. People just didn’t understand it. It really sat there for… I mean, I don’t know how deep you want me to go into this history, but it sat at Warner’s for two years until the option expired, and we got it back.

Steve Cuden:

And you got it back. Sure.

Michael:

The junior executives who had been at Joel Silver’s company when our script was there had all moved on to other jobs, and they were all tracking the script when the option was up at Warner’s. The week that the option was up, three people called us out of the blue. We hadn’t talked to them in at least two years and said, “What’s going on with that script?” One of them is a fellow named Kevin Messick, and he was working for a producer named David Permut. We really liked Kevin. Kevin has now since gone on. He up until recently ran Will Ferrell’s company. Anyway, he walked it into David Permut. David’s Permut optioned it, and then David walked it into Paramount we ended up selling it to Paramount. That’s where it got made, but that was over the course of… So, it came out in ’97, so seven years.

Steve Cuden:

So, just another overnight success.

Michael:

Yeah, exactly.

Steve Cuden:

All right.

Michael:

And by the way, I mean, one thing I want to stress is in that seven years there was never a sense that it was actually really ever going to happen. I mean, every day was fraught with, “Well, that’s it. It’s over. It’s not going to happen.” I mean, we had challenges like every movie. Setting it up, attracting talent, finding the right director. We had several directors on before John Woo who had trouble getting it going. I mean, so many things had to go right, and so many things had to go wrong for it to end up in the place it ended up.

Steve Cuden:

All right. So, let’s talk about the actual writing of the story, which is a reasonably twisty and somewhat complicated tale. What were the big challenges in crafting the story way before it ever got picked up? What were the big challenges?

Michael:

Yeah, well, the main challenge it was Face/Off, and the spine of it really. But the main challenge of Face/Off was in a way that the audience will accept, create a emotional environment that would justify a human being mutilating themselves.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael:

And undergoing something that is quite clearly insane.

Steve Cuden:

Well, Michael, first of all, most people would not think of turning themselves into either John Travolta or Nicholas Cage to be mutilation.

Michael:

Well, at that point it was just characters on a page so we really didn’t know where all that was going. That’s very true. And in fact, I do have a funny story, I hope, about that actually, what you just mentioned. So, it was always about, “Well, how can we sell this central idea that because at its barest, barest, barest DNA, Face/Off, any detail of it could be changed except one, which was the two guys have to switch identity. So, how do you justify a person who you want to root for and invest in agreeing to undertake this this extreme act? So, everything in the first act of Face/Off, in all the drafts and in the movie itself, everything is in that script and in where it is to justify that act.

Michael:

So, all the creative choices were made to reinforce that decision by John Archer, well Sean Archer in the movie to make that decision. So, we have the death of his son in the beginning. We have this years of frustration trying to catch this guy. We have the brutality of Castor Troy and the depravity of Castor Troy. He’s so dangerous, et cetera. We have this deep, deep, we hope to… I mean, I’m saying what we went for.

Steve Cuden:

Right, sure.

Michael:

This deep personal animus between the hero, this compulsion to finish this, to get this done. So, that’s really what all the creativity went toward in the first act of that movie was to get him to agree to it and have it in a way that the audience would say, “Okay, I understand. I’m with him. It’s a onetime thing, and it can save a lot of other people’s lives. It’s not over yet until we find that bomb and, et cetera.” We worried a lot about that. We toiled a lot about that. There were a lot of different iterations of those circumstances that would justify why a person would do that.

Steve Cuden:

And have us, and have the audience-

Michael:

And one of them, by the way, in the first draft was that it was far in the future. And we thought, well, it’s not as big a deal as it would be today.

Steve Cuden:

… And the whole problem I gather is in making sure that the audience stayed with and empathized with the character that now changed to the other character.

Michael:

That’s correct. Yes. That is correct, to care about them and to understand why they would do that. I mean, the movie… Yikes. I mean, I could talk about Face/Off forever, the whole experience of it and everything, but the best summation of the movie was made, in my opinion, by Mike Werb’s aunt, Aunt Sonny, who was at the premier with us and who had nothing to do with the movie business, particularly at all. But we said, “How did you like the movie?” And she said, “You know…” She did like it. She goes, “You know, by the end, I felt sorry for them both.”

Steve Cuden:

Well, that’s great. That’s perfect.

Michael:

And to me, I thought, “You know what? Mission accomplished.”

Steve Cuden:

That’s it.

Michael:

I mean, that was really the idea. These were two very, very, very disturbed men, the hero and the villain.

Steve Cuden:

Well, I… Go ahead.

Michael:

And what they had been through was just horrifying.

Steve Cuden:

I certainly learned at UCLA and definitely practice in my teaching that it’s a good thing when the audience cares for the antagonist a little bit, too. I’ve said on this show more than once that Leo Tolstoy once said that the best stories come from good versus good. Well, that’s not Face/Off because you have a bad guy. But nevertheless, when you root for both sides, that’s really painful for the audience and that’s excellent.

Michael:

Yeah. Oh, I completely, completely agree. Yeah, as long as it is-

Steve Cuden:

All right, I was going to say, let’s talk a little bit about your new show. Let’s talk about Professionals.

Michael:

… Oh, sure. Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

What is it about, because it hasn’t aired yet, right?

Michael:

Right. It has not aired yet. Professionals is a new breed. It’s almost a test case because as we were saying before we started the interview, our industry’s changing so rapidly. The streaming between now Disney+, but obviously Prime, Amazon Prime and Netflix, et cetera. There’s really a competition, a race to find the next business model around which to produce all this material because this has always been the case. Voracious desire for material, for content, as it’s now called, to the point where Michael Bay is dropping a 50, 60, $70 million movie on Netflix one night. I mean, it’s insane. The old way of movie making and movie distributing and movie exhibiting has completely, completely changed. But the Professionals is a TV series that really the force behind it is a producer named Jeff Most.

Michael:

Jeff produced The Crow and the Specialist and a bunch of… We’ve known each other for a long time. He’s produced a bunch of movies and Line produced a bunch of movies. And Jeff had this crazy idea to independently finance a whole season of television. Now independently financing pilots has been done, and certainly independently financing movies has been done. But never, I don’t think, has anyone ever been crazy enough to try to find the money, to do a whole season of television and to create something that he would then own and be able to sell as a block the whole season of TV.

Steve Cuden:

As a package. Yeah.

Michael:

And in fact, when he first pitched me on this whole thing, I told my agent. My agent was like, “I never heard of this. This has never happened before. It’s never happened.” That was three years ago, and now my agent now calls Jeff from time to time and asks him advice to say that this is now happening more often as people explore ways. Because it’s the age old thing, you know? You want the money, but you want the control.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael:

And that’s the devil’s bargain in our industry, and I don’t know if it’s the same in theater. Someone has to pay the bills, and those people very often want to have a say in the process and a say in what they’re buying essentially, what what they’re funding. That could be a real problem for the creative side. So, Jeff’s idea was, “Well, if we independently financed it then we don’t need to deal with a network. We don’t need to really deal with a studio because we’ll be the studio.”

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael:

And I can’t say it was a perfect process, ultimately. There was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of volatility in the process, but by the end that came true. I mean, by the end of it, it was just really me and a couple of other writers, and we did all the 10 drafts. With notable exceptions, we were never interfered with. We never had to throw out a script on a Thursday night because the network didn’t like it. I mean, we never had to deal with any of that, for better, for worse. I’m not saying it was a easy process because there was, I said before, there was a lot of volatility around the production and all this other stuff. But yeah, it was a very unique working experience for me, and it was gratifying in that what I wrote was what was shot. As I said, for better or worse that the audience will decide ultimately whether that was a good decision on behalf of the producers or not. That’s the way it was, so anyway-

Steve Cuden:

What’s the show about?

Michael:

… The show is set in the world of private military contractors.

Steve Cuden:

Okay.

Michael:

Which is the world’s biggest industry that no one really has ever heard of. It a $500 billion worldwide industry. You’ve heard of Blackwater, and you’ve heard of Halliburton. But every government or every country basically has they’re private companies. They’re basically mercenaries, but they’re security specialists. They can do everything from cyber security. They provide security on container ships, for example, that are going through pirate filled waters. They can guard oil installations. They body guard… For example, when you see these press conferences in the Middle East, and you see ambassadors and so forth, these guys are all guarded by private military contractors.

Steve Cuden:

Private. Sure they are. Yeah, they’re frequently not Americans even. They’re foreign nationals.

Michael:

Oh, yeah. It’s a hugely international industry. And in fact, our show has an international cast. Our leads are Tom Welling who plays the main military contractor and Brendan Fraser plays a billionaire Elon Musk type guy, Jeff Bezos guy who Tom Welling’s character protects. But our cast is from South Africa, from France, from Spain, from Norway, from England, Ireland. We have an international flavor to the cast, which was part of the point.

Steve Cuden:

So, when will it air on and on what outlet?

Michael:

Well, it was made for European broadcast and the creative mandate going back to the beginning was to create a American quality and style action TV show in the vein of like Hawaii Five-O or Lethal Weapon, like a slick, weekly action show, but make it for this European broadcast standards. I didn’t know this, but there’s a very serious embargo and quota system on American television shows in Europe because otherwise it would just take over European broadcast.

Steve Cuden:

That’s true.

Michael:

So, this show was made by adhering to all the treaties and all the requirements in terms of cast and where it’s shot and who were the production companies behind it? Where were they based? Et cetera. But the end product was made to look like an American TV show.

Steve Cuden:

So, even more hoops than normal.

Michael:

Oh, my God. The person who knows it all is Jeff Most, basically my creative partner on this. And he kept a lot of the ups and downs away from me. Yeah, this was an unbelievable task.

Steve Cuden:

So, let’s talk about the-

Michael:

Because basically you’re creating a business model from the ground up.

Steve Cuden:

… Sure. Well, yeah, because you’re doing lots of things that sound like they’re not the ordinary course of business in Hollywood.

Michael:

Yeah. What I would say to people… Because I actually live on a block in West LA where there’s like several TV writers live on this street. So, we get together from time to time and people would ask me about it. And I would say, “Look, here’s the difference.” And I would express this out of my own frustration, which is, in a normal environment, if I walked in or we walked in and sold a TV show, a pitch, that the network or the studio really loved, the following week, we would have office space. We would have a checkbook. We would be able to hire writers. We would have assistance. We would have an infrastructure for how to do the show.

Steve Cuden:

Right, right. Sure.

Michael:

I would have a phone list with people of who to call if I needed something. None of that exists on this thing. There’s really no infrastructure. There’s no central office. There’s no writer’s room. There’s nothing like that. It all exists in people’s individual, internet silos. And it makes it very hard.

Steve Cuden:

Really? So, you had no writer’s room. You had no writer’s room. You didn’t come together as a group.

Michael:

Right.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael:

That’s exactly right.

Steve Cuden:

All right. So then, this is very good. Let’s explore this a little bit. What was your day-to-day process like? How did you operate? You were just operating via Skype or FaceTime or whatever?

Michael:

Yeah, yeah. We would. Or email Yes, that was basically it. I would get sent writing samples like normal, but the writers because of the various treaty obligations had to be from Ireland. It had to be from South Africa.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael:

Those were where our two most… We got a lot of support from the Irish Film Commission and the South African Film Commission. So, a certain number of scripts, have to be set aside for Irish writers and for South African writers. Consequently, I was getting scripts from Ireland, and I was getting scripts from South Africa. The funny thing about the Irish writers was… Certainly compared to LA, there’s not a very big Irish television industry. So, most of the writers whose scripts I was getting to consider, they all had credits on the same TV show, like a nighttime soap opera that had been around forever, or they would have these other credits that you’d never heard of. So, then I would read their stuff, and then I would go on IMDB or just go on the internet and just do a little background check. The hilarious thing about the Irish writers is, even though they all worked on this nighttime soap opera, they all are playwrighted residents at the Royal Shakespeare Theater.

Michael:

Unbelievably accomplished writers in other realms, but they pick up a few bucks writing TV because there’s not a lot of action. And then the same with South Africa. The problem slightly became… There are way too many problems, actually, then I’d probably get into with you here. Very different culture in terms of what they understood their job to be and what I expected them to understand.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, like what? Like what?

Michael:

Well, for example, what I discovered was, I would give them an outline, and granted the outlines were a little thin but we were making it up as we went along. So, I would give them the pilot that I wrote and a couple of scripts that I had written as kind of tonal guides. I would give them an outline, or we would work on an outline on an episode. But what I learned…

Michael Colleary:

…an outline on an episode, but what I learned was that in Hollywood, when the showrunner gives you an outline, you’re expected to do the outline.

Steve Cuden:

Of course.

Michael Colleary:

And do the best and try to mimic the show runner’s voice as much as possible. That’s not, of course, to say that I don’t want feedback, I don’t want… I made it very clear I wanted every crazy idea they had to come back to me and discuss if they had one. But essentially it was how one works here, which is, I give you the outline, you do the outline, and you try to make it as close to tonally as the pilot episode or whatever episode we had as that.

Michael Colleary:

And very often what I got back were scripts that were way off the outline. Just way off. And, as it turned out… And I would say, “Well, what’s the story here? Why did you do that?” And it speaks to sort of the difference in the cult… the corporate culture almost, which is, I discovered that in Ireland, when they hire a writer, they expect you to kind of do your own thing, and so they perceive their mandate to be different, the exact opposite, in fact, of what I expected their mandate to be. So there was a real learning curve involved and we didn’t have a lot of time to develop that.

Michael Colleary:

So anyway, long story short, what ended up happening was, hired two writers in Ireland, hired one writer in South Africa to do all the scripts that were… Four scripts for South Africa. And they all did exactly what I asked them to do ultimately, and they all worked hard, but ultimately I had to rewrite everything-

Steve Cuden:

Oh boy.

Michael Colleary:

-just because… Yeah, I mean, just because, like I said, no fault of their own, circumstances changed. We lost locations. I mean, you know how it works. I mean, once you get into production, it’s all like a whole other ball of wax. So anyway, so at the day on Professionals, I just literally sat in a hotel room for three months just rewriting and trying to serve as production as best as I could.

Steve Cuden:

Okay, so how did you… You were away from your family, or did you take your family with you?

Michael Colleary:

Yes. No, no, I was away. I was away…

Steve Cuden:

So how did you… This is always fascinating to me. Okay. So you’re now not with your family. You’re not in your comfort zone, you’re not in your home. What were you doing to keep yourself, for lack of a better word, sane?

Michael Colleary:

Well, actually, being away from home was what was required, because I could never have done this from my backyard office where I’m sitting right now with cats that need to be fed and kids that need to be driven somewhere and just the daily demands, the impersonal kind of demands of daily life. So-

Steve Cuden:

You mean life.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, exactly. And so for three months I just dropped out of life, and I was just literally a drone sitting in an office. Now, on the upside, I don’t mean to make it sound terrible. I mean, there’s nothing better than being in production on something that you wrote.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Colleary:

As you know. I mean, it’s like the best feeling in the world. And so as trying as it was and as difficult as it was, I did have the gratification of working with very creative people, working with people I admired, in fact, and actors that I was… We had a very strong cast, and for most of those actors… Some of the actors kind of wanted to be left alone to their process, but others were very collaborative, wanted notes and wanted feedback and stuff, so you can’t do better than that. That’s like, I’m assuming, what you go through in a rehearsal. That’s really fun.

Michael Colleary:

And the fact that it was hard, well, it was hard. It was grueling. I shouldn’t say it was hard, but it was grueling in that it required a lot of… It was just like circling the wagons basically. And so I just had no other demands on me. I could stay in my hotel. It was a lovely hotel in the middle of Johannesburg, South Africa. I could go down into the mall that was attached to it and buy myself food and go to Starbucks, and otherwise I had to kind of sit there, be available by phone, be available by internet, and write like crazy. And…

Steve Cuden:

So you were not spending a lot of time on set. You were mostly in your room writing.

Michael Colleary:

Yes. Yes, you’ve nailed it, because that was really the big downside for me. The poor part about it for me was, I didn’t get to be on set very much. Because we were shooting two episodes at once, we had a lot of production pressure, a lot of production pressure, because to get through our schedule in time… We had a lot of actors schedules that were very complicated. We had, of course, budget issues, because you always do. And we were shooting in South Africa, in Johannesburg, which is not the best place in the world, friendliest place in the world to shoot a TV show from all kinds of reasons.

Michael Colleary:

And it made no sense for me to go to the set, because regardless if I could sit on a set and talk to actors and work with the director, which I was able to do a couple of times, but that was always time away from stuff that needed to be done for the following week, or two weeks from now, or three weeks from now. And in fact, my wife, who’s also a writer, she had a movie, the independent film that she wrote that was at Sundance in 2019, that was screening in Karlovy Vary, I think that’s how you pronounce it, in what was Czechoslovakia. And I couldn’t go. They were saying, “Oh…” The producer’s like, “You should fly up there and see it.” My kids were there. My wife was there for this premiere. And I was like, “I can’t leave for 48 hours. I have too much to do.”

Steve Cuden:

Too much, too much.

Michael Colleary:

So, that was one of the upsides, was that I got to do 90% of the work, but also that was one of the downsides, was I really… If I didn’t write it, I was leaving it up to the Fates, and that was obviously not ideal, so-

Steve Cuden:

So was there any huge challenges, beyond what you’ve already said and the obvious, that you had to solve in some way? Can you give us any kind of insight into the solving of a big problem?

Michael Colleary:

Well, the problems were very, in an odd way, routine. And I don’t mean to make it sound like they weren’t unbelievably stressful and volatile, but they’re pretty routine for a television production, which is, you never have enough time. You never have enough money. Johannesburg and environs was a tough place to shoot. There is a film industry there, of course, but it’s not like here. The moving bits and pieces were not always harmonious, and there was just a lot of challenges like that around it.

Steve Cuden:

So would you say it was a huge job of being patient and disciplined? Was that a big part of it?

Michael Colleary:

Oh yeah, without a doubt. And, I have to say, relying on the professionalism, certainly of our actors, of our leads, Brendan Fraser and Tom Welling, who of course have done everything. Those guys really helped set the tone for the production and kept the confidence level up among everybody, because they’re total pros. They showed up every day to do their work, sometimes under… Because it’s an action show. I mean, there’s lots of physicality involved, lots of rugged locations involved, just not the easiest production in the world, not a lot of comforts away from their hotel, et cetera, so-

Steve Cuden:

Right, dealing with the elements.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah. Yeah. And I would say the only thing that was 100% great was the weather. We never lost a day to bad weather, which was a blessing, because we really didn’t have any days to lose, so-

Steve Cuden:

That’s kind of cool.

Michael Colleary:

But I will say this. Like for example, and this may be of interest to your listeners, one of the challenges was completely self-inflicted, which was, the scripts I wrote were all… When I started writing them, they were all 60 pages, and the producer said, “Oh, no, no, no. 45. 45 pages.” And I was like, “Are you sure?” They’re like, “Yes, 45.” So I started writing the scripts 45 pages. Well, that’s predicated on this idea that you’re going to shoot one page a minute. As you know, one page equals one minute of screen time. Well, as it turned out, my pages have a lot of white. The way I write, literally, is I have a lot of white space. I use a lot of double… What do you call that?

Steve Cuden:

Spacing? Double space?

Michael Colleary:

Double lines. And so we were getting… For every page, we were only getting 45 seconds of screen time. So all the episodes started coming in, while we were shooting them, coming in short. And so that became a whole other crisis-

Steve Cuden:

Oh boy.

Michael Colleary:

Because I suddenly had to write, create new characters, create new situations, take characters that we had and put them in new situations that we could shoot, without screwing up the whole schedule for everybody else, et cetera. And then who was going to shoot it? We didn’t really have a second unit. And, I mean, it became this… It became just as chaotic as any kind of film school shoot might be, but obviously the stakes are a lot higher, and you’re dealing with people who are a lot more accredited.

Michael Colleary:

And I will say that… I can’t speak for anybody, because maybe they all hated it, but it certainly evoked a need to kind of improvise, to be flexible, to come back and solve problems, to… A lot of sort of keeping ahead of the problems or pushing the problems ahead of us, and so I’m hopeful that… I’ve seen a lot in the episodes now, of course, that were deep, deep in post, and so far I think, knock wood, they all look great. They all look very, very expensive, which was the point. They really do look like big, action-y, feature film type action. And I’m just hopeful that…

Michael Colleary:

So anyway, so long story short, I’m hopeful that buyers will now, once they see the whole thing… Because we haven’t sold it yet. I mean, we have a couple of output deals in Europe, people who brought money in just based on the package, and will broadcast it in Germany. Like the biggest broadcaster in Germany and signed on to show it, broadcast it, and one in Scandinavia, et cetera. But we want to sell it to broadcast here. It’s not really designed to be a streaming show, but what does that mean at the end of the day? I mean, if somebody wants to stream it, you’re not going to probably say no.

Steve Cuden:

But you’re talking about-

Michael Colleary:

But I’m not involved in that.

Steve Cuden:

You’re not involved in the selling of it.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah. I’m not involved in any of that. In fact, the producer is in Latvia right now. I mean, he’s in Europe right now, and he’s going to go to all these selling markets that I’ve never even heard of over the next few months and just show the show and see if people want to buy it for their territory.

Steve Cuden:

It was a huge financial risk to go into this for the producers, yeah?

Michael Colleary:

Oh yeah.

Steve Cuden:

Gigantic.

Michael Colleary:

Huge. Gigantic. Yes.

Steve Cuden:

Wow. Wow.

Michael Colleary:

Gigantic financial risk. And they-

Steve Cuden:

All right. So would you say that this is the major difference between when you first got in the business and now? Earlier we alluded to how much the industry has changed in the last 30 years or so. Is this one of the major changes? What are the major things you’ve seen that are really very different today?

Michael Colleary:

Well, let’s go back, if you don’t mind.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Colleary:

I’ll try to do it fast. So when I started out in the early ’80s, when I was in film school in the mid ’80s, although I didn’t know this at the time, but I did allude to the fact that, oh, specs were selling for a million dollars. What I didn’t know, and what a lot of people didn’t know in that moment, was that we were living in a bubble in Hollywood as writers, as movie writers and movie in the movie industry, and that bubble was created in the early ’80s by the development of home video. And so in the early ’80s, when movies started coming out on VHS tapes, this became a whole… And basically it was just libraries being studio libraries being transferred onto these shitty VHS tapes and sold for $100 to video stores that then rented them. Well, this was a whole new revenue stream that had never existed. Up until that point, movie studios made their money at the box office and by licensing their movies on to television. And that was it. And so now suddenly home video on VHS tapes brought in just millions upon millions upon millions of dollars that just never existed before. And then on top of that, 10 years later, they did the thing with DVDs. So for many, many years Hollywood was flush with cash, flush with cash, and this whole video thing was a whole production like the Wild West.

Michael Colleary:

And so when I was coming up out of school, studios were hiring writers for rewrites left and right. There were all these small companies that would hire writers. They’re looking for stuff that goes straight to video, cheap movies that you could show in the theater. There was Empire Films and Cannon Films and all these smaller companies that just were cranking out movies left and right. And that went on until like the mid to late ’90s, but eventually that revenue stream kind of flattened out, and that created a… At the same time, movies were becoming more and more expensive to market, and so that created the conditions of a contraction in the movie business by the late ’90s, early 2000s. And that really hit a head in mid 2000s, when the Writers Guild strike came and the financial crash came. And by then, the movie business was really not a shell of its former self.

Michael Colleary:

Now, going back 10 years, while this process was happening in the mid to late ’90s, while this was starting to contract… And I’ll give you a concrete example of what I mean by contract. So my writing partner, Mike, was the first writer on the Curious George adaptation for Imagine Films. It had taken a long time for Imagine Films, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s company, to get the rights to Curious George, because the woman who was the wife, the widow of the guy who created it, H. L. Rey or something, never wanted to sell them. But she finally sold the rights to Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and Mike was the first writer. So Mike did his drafts, and it was going to be animated, but then Arnold Schwarzenegger was interested, so they were going to make it live action, and blah, blah, blah. So Mike moved on to other… He finished his work, and they hired somebody else, and Mike moved on, which is common. The movie finally got made, I want to say, maybe 10 years later. And when the arbitration for the credit came, Mike ended up getting a credit on it, but he discovered in the arbitration that 50 writers had been paid to work on Curious George over the years.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael Colleary:

50.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah. And that’s a lot. And to put it in other terms, that’s a lot of mortgages. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of dues for the Writers Guild. That’s a lot of private school tuition. But they don’t do that anymore. Studios, if they develop something, they’ll maybe develop it with a couple writers. Maybe they’ll hire a rewriter, if it’s an A-list, AAA, triple A-list writer, to develop, to rewrite it. But if they don’t get a movie out of it, they don’t pursue it. And like Disney now of course is a model for the future, because they never need to hire… They never need to listen to a pitch or buy a spec script ever, because they have all that IP, so they can just mine all that Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars forever and ever. So those are opportunities that writers aren’t getting in the movie business anymore.

Michael Colleary:

Now, on the flip side, because of the movie business contracting, we suddenly have a town full of pretty talented people who maybe haven’t become Shane Black, like a brand name, but are still really good at their job. Maybe they’re not finding opportunities doing those development jobs anymore, those rewrite jobs, so they go, “Okay, well, I guess I’ll have to do TV.” And because of that, all these people who were maybe doing okay in the movie business suddenly had all the power and all the control on their own TV show. And so consequently, you got The Sopranos. You got Breaking Bad. You have all these talented people now saying, “You know, TV’s not so bad,” because…

Michael Colleary:

I was probably a perfect example of this. I wanted to write movies. My father was a TV writer. I would see my father come home at the end of the week. He was a basket case. I was like, I didn’t want to work that hard. I didn’t want to work in TV. It was like takes over your life. It devours your life. And so as long as I could make a living, make money working in movies, I got to work from home. My deadlines were always six weeks from now. It was a very different lifestyle than going to an office every day, having to produce pages every day, having to be ready for the curveball from the network every day, working 48 hours on a weekend, very grueling and hard work.

Michael Colleary:

And so anyway, but now you had all these people who had no other choice really but to seek to make a living in the TV world. And around that same time, fortuitously, was the rise of sort of these cable channels like AMC. A&E was… They all sort of started producing their own material. And lo and behold, shows like The Walking Dead or The Sopranos were on HBO, et cetera. They started producing their own shows. And here’s the thing. On network TV, the stakes are very high. It’s very expensive to keep a show on network TV, and so consequently, if your show doesn’t get the ratings, it’s just gone. It has no time to develop. It’s just thrown off network TV if you don’t reach a certain plateau of viewership. On cable, like Breaking Bad and like The Walking Dead, that bar of success is much lower.

 

Michael Colleary:

… The Walking Dead. That bar of success is much lower, in terms of viewership.

Steve Cuden:

Don’t need as many viewers.

Michael Colleary:

If you had a devoted following that was maybe going to be a fifth of the size of the Modern Family audience, let’s say, but showed up every week to watch The Walking Dead, that’s considered a success.

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely.

Michael Colleary:

And so a lot of these networks are a lot more open to shows that have a smaller audience, more of a niche audience. And consequently, that’s led to this gigantic boom in creativity. And the example I always give my students is … And I don’t know if you’re a fan, but look at Netflix with BoJack Horseman.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Colleary:

Here is an animated show about a half-horse human and all his problems, and it’s frequently brilliant. The first few seasons, it’s like the sky’s the limit. Can you imagine walking into NBC and pitching BoJack Horseman? I mean, they would call security.

Steve Cuden:

Well, at one time, you could pitch a show called Mr. Ed, about a talking …

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, right. Right, exactly.

Steve Cuden:

We did have My Mother The Car. We did have Hogan’s Heroes. You had The Munsters and The Addams Family. You had all these really unusual … You had Batman. You had shows that were unusual. They were kind of fantasy shows. You hardly ever see those on TV any more. Not on the major networks.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, and those were light. Those were family entertainment. You see, obviously, supernatural stuff that’s more edgy, but that’s really true. And so everyone kind of retreats into what they know they can make money with. And again, you see it all the time. Why do the studios make so many sequels and reboots and all that? And the answer is because they stand a better … It’s not that people in Hollywood don’t have great ideas. It’s that the movies are so expensive to make, and then to market that, they need an edge. They’re always looking for an edge that’s going to help bring awareness to it, because as you well know, you have to make your money that first weekend.

Michael Colleary:

That’s another way that business has changed, too, is how in the movies, you have to make your money the first weekend, because whatever your first weekend gross is, that will determine pretty much how much money you can make. They can pretty much figure it out after the second weekend.

Steve Cuden:

So what’s interesting is you’ve got two things going on there. One is that the industry has become more sliced-up and niched, where little productions of TV series can actually become successful with a far smaller market. But at the same time, for a feature, you need to have these gigantic opening weekends, way bigger than ever before. So that’s two ends of the spectrum.

Michael Colleary:

That’s correct. Yeah, and so they become more like events. I mean, Martin Scorsese got into a lot of trouble recently because he said that, “Oh, the Marvel films are not cinema.” And that they’re more spectacle, and that’s really true. And by the way, there’s nothing … I always tell my students, “It’s always been the same thing, just over and over.”

Michael Colleary:

And in the ’50s … Television came along in the ’50s. It was actually developed earlier, but World War II sort of slowed its development. But when Time TV came along in the ’50s, the movies freaked out. The movie studios freaked out because now for the first time, there was a viable home entertainment that competed with the movies. And so movies became … That’s when we got CinemaScope. That’s when we got the huge road show productions, massive big-screen productions, musicals. Things that TV didn’t do well.

Michael Colleary:

Because they were trying to carve out an identity, trying to maintain an identity that was different from what people were getting at home. And that friction has always still been there, and it’s there. It’s definitely still there.

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely. So I have been speaking with Michael Colleary, one of the great successful writers of our day in the motion picture industry and TV, for close to an hour and eight minutes, believe it or not.

Steve Cuden:

We’re going to sort of wind this thing down. I’m wondering: In all of your experiences, can you share with us a quirky or a weird or an offbeat or a strange or just the plain funny story that’s happened to you over time?

Michael Colleary:

I will share a Face/Off story, if that’s okay.

Steve Cuden:

Great, great, yeah.

Michael Colleary:

It speaks to a little bit of what we were talking about before. So there’s a moment in Face/Off, for those of your listeners who have seen it, in which John Travolta the person is now inhabited by Nicholas Cage’s character, Castor Troy, the bad guy. So one day, Mike Werb and I were on the set and we get this message that said, “John Travolta would like to see you. Can you go see John Travolta in his trailer?” Now, John Travolta was obviously on the set all the time. Very warm and lovely person, very friendly to all and to people who would come and watch. Just really a warm presence. So this sounded kind of stern to us. As writers, we were always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Michael Colleary:

So we go to his trailer and we walk in. He goes, “I want to talk to you guys about the scene we’re shooting today.” I’m like, “Okay, what scene is it?” He said, “Well, it’s the scene where I’m now the bad guy and I’m meeting with my brother, Alessandro Nivola, Pollux. And I say this line about my ridiculous chin.”

Michael Colleary:

And we were like, “What?” He’s like, “Well, it sounds like I’m insulting myself.” Because there’s a scene there where his brother says, “I can’t stand to look at you.” I think the dialogue something like Travolta says to his brilliant brother, “You’re not the only one with the brains,” and the brother says, “No, but I am the only one with the looks.” And he says, “Do you think it’s easy for me? Look at this face. Look at this nose. Look at this ridiculous chin.” And John Travolta was very concerned that we were making fun of him.

Michael Colleary:

And this gets back to what you were saying before, about “Well, who wouldn’t want to be turned into John Travolta?” That’s exactly what we said to him. He said, “Oh no, this is how we intend it, which is everyone in the audience is going to laugh, because inside, you’re Nicholas Cage and you’re so jealous of John Travolta’s looks that you feel the need to disparage them. So when you say ‘this ridiculous chin,’ it’s because you know you are now inhabiting the body of really a famous movie star who is famous all over the world for his good looks, for being handsome.” So he got that, and it’s actually kind of one of the funnier moments in the movie. When he does it with a lot of flourish, he’s definitely in on the joke of it all.

Michael Colleary:

But we found that pretty funny, because at the same time, he’s John Travolta. He’s been in all these great movies, but he’s still a little insecure about his looks and what is it we were really saying. And he showed a little vulnerability there that was somewhat endearing, actually.

Steve Cuden:

Well, and isn’t it funny that he was, in a weird way, saying that maybe Nicholas Cage wasn’t that good-looking? Because it was one or the other.

Michael Colleary:

Well, yeah, maybe so. They got along great, so they really got into a riff with each other. I think they really enjoyed each other, and I’m hoping that one day, somebody at HBO will put the two of them in a true detective, because they were so together in that movie and they’re both natural mimics and enjoyed mimicking each other, et cetera.

Michael Colleary:

So I don’t know if that’s funny enough. The only other funny one I have was I was able to work, Mike and I, briefly, on an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Collateral Damage.

Steve Cuden:

Yes. Well, that was produced by Hawk Koch. That was a Hawk-

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, that’s right. That’s where I met Hawk, exactly. That’s my only time working with them, but it was a lot of fun. But it was only for a brief period of time, and we were down in Mexico scouting the movie. I was trying to get back to the States, because I was going to propose to my then-girlfriend. And the producer on the movie, Steve Reuther, he made it like a joke, and he was like, “Well, I hope you have a pre-nup.” And I’m like, “There’s no way I would ever ask my girlfriend for a pre-nup. She’d kill me.”

Michael Colleary:

And so he said literally to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, by the way, I’m not saying I know well. I don’t at all. I’ve worked with him on this movie. I met with him a couple of times. But Steve Reuther said to Arnold, “Can you believe this guy? He’s getting married without a pre-nup.” I had the honor and privilege of Arnold Schwarzenegger calling me a fucking schmuck for not getting a pre-nup. “You’re a fucking schmuck,” he said, “not getting the pre-nup. What’s wrong with you?” I’m not sure he ever got a pre-nup, either.

Steve Cuden:

Who knows?

Michael Colleary:

It cost him a lot. Cost him a ton. Anyway, those silly things do happen.

Steve Cuden:

Occasionally when I have guests over … I’ve got my diploma framed on the wall from UCLA, and I like to walk over and say, “Look, I’ve got an autograph from Arnold Schwarzenegger,” because he was the governor of the state at the time, and he’s on the diploma.

Michael Colleary:

Oh, that’s right! Excuse me. Yeah, that’s right. This was prior to him being governor, and prior to his divorce, too, so I hope he did have one, have a pre-nup, but I doubt it.

Steve Cuden:

I’m not sure in the case of either one of them that they would be hurting for money, but that’s a whole other story.

Michael Colleary:

No, no, no, no, no, no way.

Steve Cuden:

All right, so last question. What would you say is a good piece of advice for those who are starting out in the business, especially as writers? Do you have a tip or a good piece of advice to lend them or maybe somebody that’s in a little bit, but trying to make it to the next level?

Michael Colleary:

You know, that’s actually a great question, especially the way you phrase it right there at the end. I think what makes our business different from maybe other businesses is there really is no … And I don’t mean to make this sound cynical at all, but there really is no end to the frustration that you will encounter. And we are not born and raised to see that as normal.

Michael Colleary:

And I think most people, and I’ve seen them come and go, as I’m sure you have over the years. We have students and whatnot, people who are promising. But the thing that I’ve seen, sadly, is that people don’t persist and they don’t stay on because of their lack. They get frustrated and they have a lack of support. And so you want to surround yourself with people who sympathize, at least, and support you for what you’re trying to accomplish, because there really is no end to the frustration of it.

Michael Colleary:

And regardless of what level you achieve … The anecdote I always show is the 1999 Oscars, when Saving Private Ryan lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love. And if you happened to watch that, there was a shot of Steven Spielberg. His reaction when that movie lost to Shakespeare in Love and you see the frustration on his face. He’s just very upset. And if that can happen to Steven Spielberg, that can happen to anybody.

Michael Colleary:

So the next level will also bring frustration, and the next level after that will bring frustration, and you just really have to learn to accept that. It really is a challenge. It’s almost like a challenge to become a Buddhist. You really have to let go of the attachment to that frustration, to accept it and just keep doing what you can do, which is your work.

Steve Cuden:

That’s very good advice.

Michael Colleary:

Trust in your work and trust in your work ethic and not take any of that personally, because it’s happening. That frustration is happening to everybody. It’s not personal. It’s just the fact that to get anything done in this business … Like my friend Jeff, who’s got this show made. The level of inertia and reinvention that has to be overcome all the time, every day. And so don’t do it if you don’t love it, because it will be hard and it will take a lot. It will take a lot out of you.

Michael Colleary:

The good news is there’s a lot of people who will support you, who understand. I mean, look at Hawk Koch. My recommendation would be is listen to the podcast you did with Hawk. That’s a guy who has done it all and still was the nicest guy in the world, still the most positive guy. Loves movies. I think this what he said, is he’s never worked a day in his life because he loves what he’s doing.

Steve Cuden:

Exactly.

Michael Colleary:

But I can promise you he’s dealt with unbelievable problems.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, tremendous.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, that stuff he’s had to overcome.

Steve Cuden:

Well, I like to tell my students, and you’ll certainly understand this, big time, is probably the most successful director, monetarily in the history of Hollywood, is Spielberg, as you were talking about. And what we see in the trades, we see Steven Spielberg’s next picture is this, or he’s producing that, or whatever it is. What we’re not seeing, we never see, are the literally dozens, if not hundreds of projects that he gets said no to. And we don’t know what those frustrations are, because he’s got all these other successes. But he has many nos, far more nos than yeses in his bag of work.

Michael Colleary:

Oh, yeah, without a doubt, and if he got discouraged … And again, that guy has tons of support. He could do any number of things. He could pick up the phone and have a job any time he wants.

Steve Cuden:

Any time he wants.

Michael Colleary:

But that’s not what he’s in it for. He’s in it for the challenge. He’s in it for the fulfillment. He’s in it for his voice and what he can do new.

Steve Cuden:

Well, that is a very valuable lesson, and I thank you for saying it. It’s the first time anyone has said it quite that way. I greatly appreciate you coming on the show today, Michael. This has been enormous amounts of fun and lots of fantastic information.

Michael Colleary:

Yeah, thank you so much. Oh, thank you so much for asking, and I could say I’m only going to get caught up on the other posts you have, because you have some really great, great people on.

Steve Cuden:

And so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you liked this podcast, please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to. Your support helps us bring more great episodes to you.

This podcast would not have been possible without the generous support of The Center for Media Innovation on the campus of Point Park University.

Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden, and may all your stories be unforgettable.