interview: Ty Freer, Final Draft Big Break Winner
I met Ty when we were in the same writing group, along with Beau and a few others. He’s placed in a bunch of stuff, and then he won Final Draft, which made me super happy. Follow Ty on Twitter @TyFreer, on Instagram @Ty.Freer or check out his truly terrible artwork at tyrribleart.tumblr.com.
What’s your writing background?
This is usually the most boring part. So I’ll spice it up by answering with Buzzfeed-like bullet points without the fun of an accompanying Buzzfeed-like gif!
- Loved writing dumb, funny stories in English class. Remember one called “The Merce-Granny” about a grandmother/Irish mercenary. I am dumb.
- Wrote movie reviews for high school paper. Gave “Phantom Menace” an A. Like I said, I am dumb.
- Wrote David Letterman-themed valedictorian speech entitled “The Top Ten Things To Get From My Speech.”
- Wrote for sports section for short time at Purdue during Kyle Orton era. We went 6-5 a lot.
- Wrote for LA Weekly-style magazine in Champaign, IL while at U of Illinois. Favorite story was first-person account playing Belegarth with a field of super competitive uber-nerds.
- Started copywriting after graduating from grad school. Projects include work for NBDL (the NBA’s minor league), Riot Games, and Cinedigm. Also weird stuff like a lawn treatment company and a chain of fitness centers I accidentally offended and never heard from again. I continue to copywrite.
- Start writing TV specs while living in Austin. Wrote two terrible ones. Fear my computer’s hacking and their eventual public release.
- 2011, move to LA to get into TV. Wife agrees, because she’s the best. Shortly thereafter, named a Finalist in the Nickelodeon TV Writing Fellowship. Don’t get in.
- 2012, named a Semi-Finalist in the NBC Writers’ on the Verge program. Don’t get in.
- 2014, again named a Semi-Finalist in the NBC Writers’ on the Verge program… and got in! Just kidding. Don’t get in. Strike three.
- 2015, won Best Half Hour Pilot in the Final Draft Big Break contest. Confetti falls. Tears dramatically roll down cheek. “We Are The Champions” plays. FADE TO BLACK.
You won the Final Draft contest in the half hour pilot category with your script “How I Got Hanged”. When you were writing that pilot, did it feel different from your other pilots? I don’t know. When I wrote my last pilot that got me an agent, it felt different for me.
Great question! (Don’t you hate that? Implies your other questions aren’t great.) Yes, it felt different. Precursor: a couple years ago, I heard Malcolm Spellman speak at a roundtable at the Austin Film Festival.* He said you know in your gut when you’re working on “The One.” I’m not sure I would’ve put it in those terms had he not Incepted it into my brain. But yeah, I felt like I was onto something special with “Hanged.” I didn’t want to let it down.
*Two things. 1. Malcolm Spellman is so cool it’s legitimately upsetting. 2. The Austin Film Festival is the greatest time in the world for writers and I can’t wait to go back. (AFF! Hook your boy up with a free Producer’s Badge for this plug.)
What’s your writing process like? How long does it take you?
Oh god. My answer sucks: It all depends.
With “How I Got Hanged” for example, I felt like I hit on a concept that was really fun and unique: an outlaw tells the story of how he got hanged as his “last words.” Think “How I Met Your Mother” with life-or-death stakes and more bull semen jokes. So I did a ton of research on what the Old West was really like. Watched a bunch of Westerns. Took pages and pages of notes. Knew which clichés I wanted to subvert. Started writing. Finished a full 30-page script… and threw it away. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It hadn’t lived up to its premise. It was garbage and I knew it. So I scrapped the whole thing and started over. It sucked and hurt like hell and I felt like I’d wasted the prior three months.
But I hadn’t. Some things just take more time. All told, “Hanged” took me like eight months to finish. Which is much, much longer than I’ve ever taken to write a script, but I felt like I had to get it right or I’d never forgive myself. Also that was the most melodramatic sentence I’ve ever written. Sorry. I’ll now go jump in a boiling tar pit.
Going along with my “it all depends” theme, I once wrote a kid’s animated pilot in 30 hours. I wrote a “Parks & Rec” spec in four days. Those were entirely based on contextual necessity, but still. I guess the big takeaway is to not listen to anyone else’s writing process if what you do works for you. I wish I had a more robot-like system but I don’t. My writing is more about intuition than I’d like to admit. Okay, I’m nearly all intuition. I’m an intuition-based life form.
So a bunch of exciting stuff happened to you since winning Final Draft.
It’s been a really fun/surreal last couple of months and I’ve no doubt peaked both as a writer and consequently, as a human being. Here’s to my professional and personal decrescendo!
Since the Final Draft Big Break win, I signed with Echo Lake. Also Final Draft hosted a really cool awards ceremony at Paramount for the winners, which got my name in The Hollywood Reporter, so I was able to look successful back home. (Here’s to false perception!) I’ve taken some meetings. I’ve had a staff writer interview. I’m currently enrolled in a New York Film Academy fellowship, one of the perks of winning Big Break. They did a table read of one of my old pilots, a comedy about a white rapper in Oklahoma City called “Ball So Hard M************ Wanna Fine Me,” which was gratifying and terrifying and Porto’s-ing. (They brought Porto’s.)
You met with a manager and signed with them. How’d that happen?
Shortly after I won, a few management companies who’d judged the Final Draft contest contacted me about possible representation. They all requested second scripts, so do yourself a favor and write a second script that’s just as good as your best sample. No pressure! Really though, you’ll probably be asked for a second script. They want to ensure you’re no one-hit wonder. Although some one-hit wonders—lookin’ at you, Snow—will always have a special place deep a licky boom-boom down in my heart.
So anyway, one of the management companies/judges—Echo Lake—was extremely complimentary about my pilot. I would’ve classified it as a “wooing,” but I’d never been wooed before, so I couldn’t be certain. When I met them in person, it was confirmed: I was being wooed. It was a full-on wooing. I felt like a Disney princess. They wanted me to sign on the spot, but told them I needed to think it over. Not because I didn’t like them—they were great and genuine and immediately passed the “gut test”—but because it felt like a badass move to say “I need to think it over” and I’m nothing if not a bad ass. (This is a lie.) They emailed me again at like 5 A.M. the next morning. A few hours later, I signed with them via a paraphrased Kenny Powers quote, which was simultaneously the coolest and douchiest thing I’ve ever done.
So what’s the status of your pilot? What’s next?
I have no idea if I can talk about anything regarding pilot status. So while all that is being sorted out, I’m working on a new comedy pilot centered in high school, a no-sex sex comedy set in the late 90’s. It should be fun and hopefully relatable. Also this is my first staffing season, so it’ll be a fascinating experience. I say “fascinating” rather than “outright terrifying” because I don’t really have any expectations. There are so many other factors outside of your control—showrunner taste, what level of writer they’re looking for, network/studio overall deals, agency/management connections, others I don’t even know about—that I think all you can do is write a great script and hope for the best.
You’ve recently started making the general meeting rounds. How are those going?
Really good! I think. Maybe? I don’t know! I have no idea what people think of me. I had a meeting at Comedy Central and wore “Workaholics” socks in case things went poorly and I was desperate for conversation. (“Uh… uh…. uh… look at my socks!”) Things went well, but did I show him the socks anyway? Of course. When you wear “Workaholics” socks, you show off “Workaholics” socks. Everybody knows that. I don’t know if that’s a good answer but I’ll say that meetings are fun and weird and awkward and fascinating.
In the past, you’ve tried improv, stand up, and sketch. Did that help your comedy writing?
I like how you said “tried” improv and stand up rather than “failed” at improv and stand up. You’re a sweet boy, Kiyong.
If you’re a comedy writer, I 100% recommend taking an improv class. Getting out of your comfort zone is extremely important on many levels. The people in my class were so good that you can’t help but pick up new tricks. I truly believe I’m not only a better comedy writer, but a braver person because of improv. That being said, I hated improv. Well, that’s not fair. I hated improv practice. Every Saturday at 11:30 A.M., my stomach twisted around like it was in a 15th-century “Saw” trap. Every week driving to practice, I prayed to Bill Murray that I’d get into a car accident. Nothing serious, just enough to get out of practice for a few weeks. Never happened. Now it seems crazy that I was so freaked out. The grad show killed and I got some big laughs. Deep down I was just intimidated by how funny a lot of my classmates were, not realizing they’d been doing improv for years before moving to LA. Remember, I’m dumb.
After improv ended, I tried stand up. I honestly thought I’d be a really good stand up. I wouldn’t say that I hadn’t thought about what my “Louie”-like opening credits would be for the “Ty” FXX show, but I wouldn’t say I hadn’t not thought about them either. But when I got on that stage, I sucked. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, I was “The suckiest suck who ever sucked.” I tried it a few more times but never got better. Also, my short-term memory is egregious, so I had to print out my jokes and read them from Staples-branded copy paper, which makes audiences really comfortable and primed to laugh. So what I learned from stand up was “stick to writing.” Not every writer is a performer. And that’s okay. Not every performer is a writer.
Later, I took a sketch class with Eric Moneypenney at the Miles Stroth Workshop. I’m generally leery of writing classes, but it was really great. Every week, we’d write two sketches and table read them. There, you had no choice but to write quickly, cast your scripts yourself, and perform when others cast you. And it had to be good because the people in that class were absurdly talented. Seriously, that class was the ’96 Bulls of sketch classes. (Excluding myself. I’ve peaked, remember?)
We were in a writing group together, and you’ve been in other writing groups. Pros? Cons? Advice for people starting a group?
Pros: You make friends. You laugh your ass off. (Read: My ass is gone. I’m an assless man.) You get notes. You learn how to handle getting notes. (Read: Listen. Don’t be a dick.) You write better. You pitch jokes, which prepares you for future writers’ room situations. You learn how to handle when your pitch bombs. (Read: Move on. Don’t be a dick.) You tell stories. You develop bonds. You feel less lonely. You learn other perspectives. You gain insight. You wear a plaid shirt/hoodie combo. You talk about things you love. You bitch about things you hate. You carpool to Arbor Day-themed orgies. Okay, the last part wasn’t true but still. It’s the best.
Cons: There are no cons. My writing has improved tremendously and I’ve made friendships because of writers’ groups that’ll last my whole life. Including you, Kiyong! Aww!
Advice for starting a writers’ group: Luckily, the internet makes this so easy. If you live in LA, send a message in the Yahoo TV writers group or on Facebook or Fakeblock or whatever hip website young people use now. If you don’t live in LA, there’s likely a shallower writer pool, but don’t let that stop you. Every city on the damn planet has smart, funny people who want to write, looking for similarly-minded folks. I wasn’t in a writers’ group prior to living in LA and I deeply regret it. Also, who knows? You might just meet the love of your life in a writers’ group. If so, please name your child after me out of respect. “Ty” works for either sex.
Any general advice?
- Join a writers’ group. I cannot stress this strongly enough.
- Get outside your comfort zone. Do stand up. Join an improv class. Sign up for a sketch class. You may not like it but you will learn and it will make you a better writer and person. Trust me.
- No excuses. They’re easy. Writing’s hard.
- I get asked time-to-time about advice on moving to LA. Here’s what I say: LA is expensive. Happy Hour beers are $6. This is not common elsewhere. If you want to write, consider writing your first couple of scripts in your much cheaper current, non-LA location. That’s because your first two scripts will probably suck. Your friends will love them, call you a genius, but your friends are either very nice or very dumb. I’ve been there. I’m utterly ashamed of the first two specs I wrote. (I wrote a “Modern Family” and I literally just cringed typing this.) I got those out of my system living in Austin. By the time I moved to LA, my third script was a Finalist in the Nick Writing Fellowship. Which I didn’t get. But still!
- Don’t be a dick. Don’t necessarily be the change you want to see in the world—that’s a lot of pressure and a real time eater—just don’t be a dick.
- Listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. We’re all fighting the doubt monster. Don’t let that son of a bitch beat you.
– – –
Thanks to Ty for taking the time to answer all these questions. I hope he hires me when he’s a showrunner!