Tom Nunan has had a long, successful career, and continues to remain a vibrant, plugged-in creative force in the industry. Tom is well-known as a producer of the Academy Award-winning Best Picture Crash, as a former President of television network UPN and President of NBC Studios, and as a current founder and partner of Bull’s Eye Entertainment where he has generated a film and television slate of more than 50 projects.
We asked Tom the following questions:
Tom, what advice do you have for new producers looking to break into the film, television and digital media industry?
SPECIALIZE AND HAVE STRONG ROLE MODELS. I’ve got two pieces of advice for emerging producers looking to make their marks in features, TV and digital.
#1 – – SPECIALIZE. Get known for doing one thing really, really, really well. Becoming an expert and the “go to” person in any given genre will give you the freedom to work in other genres or other formats in the future, because you’ve built up a reputation for being EXCELLENT at something, and people can trust you to deliver. JASON BLUM became the most excellent new producing genius in horror and now he’s moved into Oscar and Emmy-nominated documentary films and scripted dramas, well outside the realm of his original expertise. MATTHEW WEINER was a well known multi-camera comedy writer who wanted to expand his portfolio into drama. Having earned everyone’s trust in one genre – – COMEDY – – he moved smoothly into drama, first joining the staff of THE SOPRANOS, then overseeing his masterpiece, MAD MEN.
#2. IDENTIFY THREE ROLE MODELS, and try duplicating their careers. People often complain that the ladder is invisible in Hollywood, especially when starting out. One way to make that ladder visible is to chart the careers of those who’ve come before you. Their successes, their career stories – – can act as the blueprint for your career. By the way, you’ll usually find that your heroes SPECIALIZED in something first, became known as excellent in that one space, then they went on to do whatever else they wanted.
What do you think are the most important aspects to consider when choosing a project to produce?
When I’m choosing a project to produce, I ask myself the following three questions:
a. Am I willing to dedicate real time, over the next two years minimum, on this project?
b. Can I truly add value to this idea?
c. By working on this project, am I furthering my broader career goals?
I need to answer an unconditional YES to all three of these questions, to consider taking a new project on board.
What rookie mistakes can make a project fail?
There are many rookie mistakes one can make as an emerging producer, but here are a few that are particularly worth noting:
a. BE BUTTONED UP ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS. Always create an agreement – – whether it’s a shopping agreement or an option – – with the rights holder of any project you’re pursuing, before you put any real time into a producing collaboration. I’ve seen far too many times producers get aced out of a project they’ve spent years on, after realizing they didn’t have an enforceable agreement where they’re attached as producers. Along the same lines, always make sure that the rights are actually available for a project you’re pursuing. Even with all my experience, I’ve learned the hard way not to ever do anything “in good faith” or based on “a handshake agreement.”
b. DO YOUR DILIGENCE. While it’s important to always pursue what you’re passionate about, it’s important not to be operating completely in the dark. Try and remain as informed as possible about the playing field – – what’s in development and production around town, let alone what’s been out recently theatrically and on TV. It’s amazing to me when I’ll hear a new producer pitch a show or movie, and I’ll say, “Are you aware that there was a movie called BRIDESMAIDS out just a few years ago?” Or, “Yes, that idea is great, but there’s already a show called C.S.I. on the air.” As obvious as this may sound, it’s amazing how new producers often seem to be living in a cave when it comes to their projects. Staying informed about the business is key – – it saves a lot of time and heartache and along the way of remaining informed, it’s powerful to see the diverse range of projects that are underway.
c. DON’T COMPROMISE. If you’re seeking to have a long career in Hollywood, you’ll come to know that your reputation is everything. Always tell the truth, be on time and hire the best people possible. These decisions all add up to the SUM OF YOUR CHARACTER. If you show compromise in anything – – your own integrity, your work ethic or your overall taste – – it’s very difficult to change that perception.
We all know the industry is constantly changing. Where do you think it is currently heading?
In film, it’s pretty clear that studio-funded movies are going down the exclusive path of huge-budgeted event experiences, with multiple chapters. In other words, mega-franchise movies. There will always be smaller, independently funded movies, but these will go more the way of limited releases and then longer lives via cable and streaming. Character-driven content is becoming more and more the rule in “TV” (network, cable and streaming) versus motion pictures. On a broad basis, we’ll see more consolidation between the major players, and mid-sized companies like SONY, LIONSGATE and possibly even PARAMOUNT, may get acquired or folded into larger, more robust vertically-integrated companies. Network TV – – ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and THE CW – – will move away from “day and date” scripted series, and rely more and more on live events, sports, musicals and other televised spectacles that justify the business of networks. Over time, I predict these networks will likely die off in favor of OTT services.
In what way will the Professional Program in Producing prepare students for a career in film, television and digital media?
What makes this program so spectacular is the cavalcade of experts Brian and his team book in the intense period of time the “student” attends the program. I can’t think of any other program at any school here or abroad, that packs in so much, in such a brief period of time. On top of that, Brian enlists the best teachers available at UCLA’s venerable Theater, Film and TV school to curate each specific lecture, so the student not only is hearing from excellent, seasoned professionals, but often the “A-list” of the professors who in and of themselves, are legendary in Hollywood and true masters at bringing the wide array of opportunities to life in an informal, appealing and rewarding environment. The Professionals Program listens to its students and does its best to remain flexible and attentive to their needs, while booking the best experts and professors possible. It’s an interactive, “client-friendly” program that is exceptional by any standard.
Judith, as one of the creators of the life-changing Acting for the Camera program, what do you believe makes it stand out from the rest?
I think there are a few things that make this program stand out:
The quality of our teachers. All are working professionals, so we are able to share our current, real-life experiences with our students. We know what works and doesn’t work because we’re out there working ourselves.
The career development class. We bring professionals in to help our students with the business side of show business and offer them ways to create and market their own content so they won’t have to wait for someone else to hire them–they can hire themselves.
The opportunity to network with the other professional program students. The producers and screenwriters they meet at UCLA today are the people they will be collaborating with in the future.
Rocco Pucillo has been incredibly busy since finishing the Professional Program in Screenwriting at UCLA. We caught up with him for some advice for our current students.
What’s the most valuable thing you learned at UCLA?
Pitching is important. I sold two original feature projects from pitches, so learning how to properly pitch is essential. A lot of writers are afraid to pitch, but it’s a huge part of the business — so take the class when it’s offered! UCLA also taught me how to listen to notes. On every studio project, people have notes. Execs, producers, directors, actors — everyone. It’s extremely collaborative. And I think the UCLA writing workshop prepares you for this. Many of the notes sessions I’ve had are basically a bunch of people sitting in a room, critiquing a document you gave them — not much different than a UCLA workshop (except for the money involved, of course). You have to be open to changes and listen to feedback. Like I said, this business is extremely collaborative. Now I understand why the workshops are structured the way they are. It’s good experience.
What’s your writing process?
It changes depending on the project. Writing features or TV for a studio is different than writing a spec on your own. But I have a few constants. When I get a story idea, I create a file folder (both digital and physical versions). Then I go about my life. When scenes or characters pop into my head, I jot them down and drop them in the folder. I also build a music playlist — scores and songs that match the mood of the story. I know a playlist works when it helps me fill in the blanks. At a certain point, when I have enough notes and a fitting soundtrack, I start writing. Then the characters take over. Not all notes, songs or characters survive this process. Some get discarded — or, if they’re lucky, sent away to another folder for a different story.
What projects are you working on now?
A few weeks ago, I finished a draft of a feature for Warner Bros. Now I’m writing a freelance episode for a Netflix TV series. I recently secured the rights to a book, so I’m cooking up a feature pitch for it. And then I’m developing a new spec script. You learn real fast to spin multiple plates, because odds are most plates end up smashed on the floor.
What is your advice to current struggling writers?
That’s a tough one. Because the struggle never ends. I’m still learning the business, too, so I’m no expert. But knowing what I know now, it’s a little more than “follow your dream.” So let’s say… Follow your dream, but treat it like a job. Work hard, be professional, build a good reputation, read a lot, and write a lot. And never stop learning. You can always improve. Unfortunately, there’s no path to guaranteed success. A lot of it is WHAT you’re willing to sacrifice, and HOW LONG you’re willing to sacrifice it. Some people have responsibilities that take them away from writing. They might have a sick loved one, or maybe they have kids. And if you have financial responsibilities, are you willing to walk away from a good job and live broke so you can finish that script, with no guarantee it’ll get you anywhere? It’s not easy to follow your dream. It’s always a balancing act. Somehow, I kept at it, but I’m a little nuts.
This program at UCLA has provided invaluable writing experience. Instructors have meticulously guided my work, and by program end, I’ll have a robust portfolio of samples that I strongly believe will jumpstart my career. I couldn’t have done it without my cohorts either. We’ve all helped each other with jokes, structure, and ultimately became friends in the process. As a writer of color, this experience has positioned me with a competitive edge in this current era of peak TV.
Between the practical knowledge I received during lectures and the hands-on experience I gained in my workshop, I came out of the program not only as a more polished screenwriter but as a better storyteller in general. The Professional Program helped to strengthen my writing skills overall and hone in on my specific talents as a writer for the screen.
Coming from a micro-state, the Republic of San Marino, Europe, it was thrilling for me to be part of such a huge and prestigious institution like UCLA. One of my best memories is walking across campus to go to class. I truly enjoyed my time at UCLA, and tried to live the campus life as much as I could. I think that my program was extremely valid and comprehensive, and left me with knowledge, curiosity, and valuable material for my future career.
Applying for the Professional Program in Producing was one of the best decisions in my life. To my knowledge there is no existing program like it, providing such firsthand insight into the business of the entertainment industry. Day by day I learned from dedicated and experienced professionals about all aspects of the filmmaking process. I gained deeper knowledge in various fields of producing as well as my personal strengths. Thanks to the program, I am thrilled and confident to take the next steps toward my career goals.
As a professional in the Bollywood industry, my exposure to UCLA has been richly rewarding. The art, the technique and the methodology that I experienced in the Acting for the Camera program has widened my horizons in pursuit of improving my skills and performance. While I got the benefit of guidance and handholding by the in-house faulty, the guest lectures have added much to my understanding. Overall, the learning at UCLA TFT has been very productive and I recommend it as a must for every aspirant in the film industry.
I consider the Acting for the Camera program to have been a life changing opportunity for me and ABSOLUTELY recommend that anyone who has the passion for the arts, the willingness to work & the openness to learn, throw their hat in the ring for an opportunity to become a member of the Professional Programs family. It’s an investment with not only an amazing return, but a community of artists it is simply an honor to work and grow with! From South Carolina to California, this small town girl is proof that you can live your big city dreams! Go Bruins!
It was thrilling to participate in UCLA’s Professional Program. Learning from professionals who run their workshops like real writers rooms gave me the confidence to pitch my own content while strengthening my overall writing skills. As a woman new to the industry this felt like the greatest gift of all: that each of the instructors encouraged us to hone what was unique about our own voices. I left each class feeling empowered and ready to continue learning with an ever expanding sense of wonder and curiosity. I feel privileged to be part of such a diverse community of creative minds.
Taught by top industry experts and leaders working in the entertainment industry. Learn more about the Professional Programs at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.