Interview: Nick Watson
Nick Watson landed on Script Pipeline’s radar in 2015 when he placed as a runner-up in the Great TV Show Idea Competition with his pitch for Mr. Doom, an animated series. After reviewing several of Nick’s scripts in the years following, it was clear he was destined for a career in TV writing. That prophecy rang true: he went on to write for Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop, and in 2018, joined the staff of the TBS animated series Final Space.
We’ve had a lot of incredible writers over the past 20 years from outside the United States. Canada, the UK, and Australia mostly. Strangely enough (and I have no evidence why this is the case, but I’ve been around long enough to claim it as truth) so many of the best non-US writers come from Australia. . . . Are they teaching something magically different, or is the culture for emerging writers more supportive and structured as far as education? Do you feel as though you built, or were provided, a solid foundation before coming to Los Angeles?
Funnily enough, I’d say it’s almost the opposite. The Australian entertainment industry is so small and under-funded that the kind of opportunities available here in the U.S. (internships, assistant jobs, writers’ PA and writers’ assistant positions) are almost non-existent in Australia. So I think it’s a survival of the fittest thing, where those of us who want it the most are forced to seek out every resource and every avenue available to try to build our careers. Whether it’s making our own stuff, voraciously reading screenwriting books, listening to podcasts, attending conferences, or for many, packing up and moving overseas to where the opportunities actually are. Only the most determined, persistent, and passionate writers will keep at it, because it’s just so hard to even get that first foot in the door. So those who are here really want it.
In terms of education, I’d say Australia is about on-par with anywhere else, but the main issue is that the biggest benefit of a lot of film schools is the prestige of the name, and the alumni network and resources. You lose all that when you have to move to an entirely new country in order to get work.
You’re facing a lot of the same obstacles climbing the ladder as someone who was bred in L.A., but besides the logistical hiccups, have you had to adapt your style of writing? Your approach? Comedy is comedy, right? It’s universal?
From a more technical standpoint, it actually took me a while to adjust to writing in American English rather than Australian/British English. Not just the spelling–like z’s instead s’s, and cutting the u’s after the o’s–but also certain words we use that you guys don’t. Like I was writing ‘fairy floss’ for ‘cotton candy’, or ‘cupboard’ for ‘closet’, little things that might throw an American reader off. Also it’s worth noting that scripts in Australia are written on A4 paper, not Letter. This means that each page has about an inch more room for dialogue and action, so when you convert your scripts across to the US format, suddenly your script is 5 pages too long.
From a creative standpoint, I do think comedy is pretty universal. There are cultural tendencies–Australians and Brits tend to like awkward cringe-humor and absurdism a little more, but we’re all raised on American TV and movies, so most of us are inspired by similar things and have the same touchstones. When writing for animation, the universality of story and comedy is especially apparent because they end up dubbing your work into a dozen different languages and streaming it around the world. Writing something that’s going to be viewed by people of all age ranges and cultures teaches you to rely less heavily on clever language for your jokes and lean more into visual humor. Stuff that’s universally relatable and funny.
Your comic timing is excellent, your writing is sound. TV is just your wheelhouse, from our vantage point. While it’s not surprising, how did you end up on Final Space?
As with all of these things, it was a number of factors coming together at once, plus good timing, and a bit of luck. I had seen Olan’s Final Space pilot that he made with New Form when it came out on YouTube and fell in love with it years before it was going to be made into a TV series. The next time he was in L.A., we grabbed coffee and kept in touch. When I heard from my agent that Final Space was staffing up, she hit up the network, studio, and production company to submit my material, and I reached out to Olan. He told me to send him my script, and literally two days later, I had a meeting with him and the showrunner, plus a couple of the execs from New Form and Conaco. It went great, we all really clicked, and after one last meeting with the network, I found out I got the job. I’ve been a life-long sci-fi nerd and animation fan, so being able to combine the two on this show was like a dream come true.
Writer X, fresh out of college, wants to work on a TV series. There are 50 different roads leading to that reality, right? So this answer is going to be subjective, but what do you think is the best road? Or to make it easier: some of the best roads?
In my eyes, the assistant track is the best way to learn how this industry works from the inside-out and gain a lot of really valuable knowledge that will serve you well later in your career. Plus–most importantly–meet the right people. And I’m not talking about just meeting big-name execs, or writers, or producers. I mean meeting the other assistants and coordinators and people at your level who you’re going to grow with, and help each other out, and in 5-10 years are going to become those execs, writers, and producers. I think if you’re not on the ground in L.A. and working in (or adjacent to) the entertainment industry, you’re going to find it much harder to ‘break in.’ It’s not impossible by any means, but be aware that it’s going to take both more time and more effort on your part.
New writers seem to get a lot of recycled advice. Not bad advice, per se, but perpetually the same advice. One of those being the unapologetically ambiguous “go network.” Because “you have to know someone” to break in. Aside from the obvious–that, yeah, everyone has to know someone at some point to do much of anything–what is the reality of networking, what does it mean, and how important is it to meet as many people as possible? Especially for someone who, in all likelihood, came to Los Angeles “cold,” with few open doors to Hollywood.
Aside from the actual writing, I’d say networking is probably the second most important thing that a writer can do. TV Writing is an inherently social job: you’re sitting in a room with 10 other people for 8-12 hours a day, 5 days a week, talking. Your bread-and-butter when you’re looking for work as a writer is taking meetings, so one of the most important skills you can have is to be able to make a good impression on other people on a regular basis. You will have your ‘about me’ spiel nailed down and regurgitate it about a hundred times a year, so start practicing now. That’s not to say it’s all soulless and manipulative, in reality it feels more like constantly making new friends and acquaintances, and building genuine relationships, rather than ‘contacts’ that you can ‘use.’
One of the most important things I did when I moved to L.A. and didn’t know anyone was to get to know some people. Even that final step before you get a job as a TV writer, the showrunner meeting, is a social ‘test’ to see if you would be good in the room. And the way you’re going to keep getting work after that is through other writers you have worked with, who want to work with you again. I can confidently say that if you hole yourself up in your room and just write and never make an effort to meet people, it will be very difficult to have a successful career as a writer, at least for TV. So go to mixers, drinks, networking events–plan your own things and invite people to those. Be unashamed about your hobbies and interests, and find kindred spirits in the industry. The best relationships you’ll build are the ones where you barely talk about ‘the industry’ at all.
We know plenty of writers who have sold specs, who have had films produced, been staffed on shows, worked in high-ranking capacities on cable and network television. . . and it’s still a struggle. Creatives in general are in this constant loop of trying to prove themselves. Which in a way is a good thing, it helps weed out the ones who aren’t serious about their craft. Still: how do you stay motivated?
It’s tough. I think all writers struggle with impostor syndrome, that feeling of not being good enough, like somehow you’re just fooling people that you’re good enough and they’re all going to find out and you’ll be exposed as a fraud. Even when you’re sitting in a writers’ room, getting paid to write because a dozen people all believed in you enough to give you that job over 200 others, it can be hard to shake. A lot of people have an idealized vision of the life of a writer, where you’re employed year-round in a cushy job where you get to tell jokes and make up stories for a living. Instead, it’s more like finally getting your dream job only to be fired every six months because your company may or may not exist anymore.
The best way I’ve found to stay motivated is to get some perspective. To look back at how far you’ve come from where you started. It’s easy to downplay your achievements when you accrue them gradually. “Oh, it’s just a freelance script,” or, “just a staff writer job,” all the way up to, “oh it was just an Emmy nomination“. But if you had a chance to go back and tell your younger self what you’re doing now, chances are they would be pretty stoked. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs in your career, so make sure you give yourself permission to be happy in those moments where you have achieved something.
What has been the high point of your career? *so far, anyway
It’s kind of simple, but I remember watching a video of the unveiling of Littlest Pet Shop: A World of Our Own at Hascon in Rhode Island, and there were a room full of kids with their parents watching this panel. When the exec said they were going to show them an episode from the show, this adorable cheer went up from the children in the audience. It was pure, unadulterated joy and excitement. I got teary thinking that something I had made was bringing that kind of happiness to kids all over the world, and that a generation was going to grow up watching it, like I had with my favorite animation when I was a kid. That feeling of your work really making a difference, no matter how small, and meaning something, was everything I could have hoped for.
. . . that, or getting to do the Final Space Virtual Reality experience at Comic Con 2018 that I helped create. Putting on the goggles and floating around in space with the characters I had just spent a season writing for was pretty damn cool.
Nick Watson is a TV comedy and animation writer originally from Australia, where he wrote for 3 seasons of late-night comedy and taught screenwriting at the University of Melbourne. Since moving to L.A., he has worked as a Creative Executive, was a freelance writer for Hasbro Studios’ Littlest Pet Shop: A World of Our Own and joined the staff of TBS’ animated comedy series Final Space in 2018 during their second season. Nick was a finalist in the 2015 Script Pipeline Great TV Show Idea Competition, with his animated sitcom pilot Mr. Doom.
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