SPEAKING WITH… SHARI GOODHARTZ
Part one

As I’ve said all too many times, I don’t remember exactly when I meet someone, in this case, Shari Goodhartz. But I’m betting it was probably at a party. Shari is an animation writer, TV writer, movie writer, etc. I have lunch with Shari and a few other writer friends about once a month or so and we talk about everything writing. Shari is very much about doing things right with as little bull as possible and she is very good at expressing her views, most of which I agree with. Unlike many writers who write instinctually, Shari understands what’s she doing. On top of that, she’s a cool person to know and talk to. And though it’s wrong for a guy with the name Wolfman to make puns about other people’s name, in this case it’s true. Shari does indeed have a Goodhartz.

Here’s her official bio:

Shari Goodhartz is an Emmy and Writers Guild of America Award-nominated writer with more than 20 produced credits in film and television. She graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton with a B.A. in English and Literature, going directly from school to a summer internship with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Ms. Goodhartz then spent six years at Columbia Pictures/The Coca-Cola Company in Corporate Communications. She left Columbia to write television, first gaining a spot in the prestigious Warner Bros. Comedy Writers Workshop, and then a WGA internship at Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she has three credits. Ms. Goodhartz has also worked in animation, with multiple credits on a number of shows including Gargoyles and Wing Commander Academy. She received an Emmy nomination for her work on Disney’s Raw Toonage and wrote the pilot for the MTV cult hit Aeon Flux . Ms. Goodhartz has also had staff and freelance assignments on live-action series such as this seasons’ Galidor: Defenders of the Outer Dimension for Fox Kids and ABC Family, as well as Fox’s primetime series Roar and Fox Kids’ Young Hercules (her script “Hind Sight” received a WGA Award Nomination for Outstanding Children’s Script of 1999). She wrote the screenplay and theme song lyrics for Universal Family Entertainment’s Dragonheart: A New Beginning (sequel to the feature film Dragonheart), which was recently nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in the category of Outstanding Children’s Script for the year 2001. Ms. Goodhartz has developed numerous television series for young audiences at the request of companies such as DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, CBS, Universal Family Entertainment and Fox Kids. In addition, Ms. Goodhartz has produced public affairs videos for Viacom International and has a choreography credit on an Emmy-award-winning episode of Late Night with David Letterman. An avid yoga practitioner, she’s been teaching this ancient art for two years. Ms. Goodhartz is an active member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, proudly serving on the Educational Program Services Committee that oversees the internship program that started her career. An interview with her is currently featured on the WGA homepage. To view it, set your browser for www.wga.org and click on “A Writer with a Good Heart.” An earlier interview with Ms. Goodhartz about writing for children can be found at: www.wga.org/craft/interviews/goodhartz.html.

MARV WOLFMAN: HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE BUSINESS?

SHARI GOODHARTZ: This year is my 20th anniversary in the entertainment industry (lasting this long is one of my definitions of “success,” by the way). My first gig was a summer internship through the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. They flew me out to LA for eight weeks to work on a Movie-of-the-Week. It was an incredible experience: being on the set, talking to the director and the crew, watching dailies, writing script coverage (a particular kind of synopsis/analysis of scripts and books), reading the trades for the first time. Because I was a TV Academy intern, I had an amazing amount of access, which I soon learned was kind of unusual. A common question was “what does your father do?” – this confused me for a while since I didn’t understand that hidden behind the question was the idea that being treated with respect often came from being related to someone important. Fortunately, the TV Academy’s internship was created to do the exact opposite – provide a start for people who have no connections in Hollywood, but are passionate about working in TV. If you’re reading this and you’re a college or post-graduate student and you’re interested in breaking into the business, the TV Academy’s internship program is ranked in the top ten in the country by the Princeton Review. Check out www.emmys.org to learn more about this incredible entrée into the biz.

MW: WHAT TRAINING, IF ANY, DID YOU HAVE TO BECOME A WRITER?

SG: I had a BA in English and lots of stage training, and after I finished my TV Academy internship, I was hired by Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. to write one of their company newsletters. I spent six years moving up through the Corporate Communications Department at Columbia, where I also learned meeting planning, speech writing, press relations, effective management technique, and so many other communication and interpersonal skills that are vital for a TV writer/producer (which had been my dream ever since I read “The Making of Star Trek” when I was 13). After I was transferred from New York to Los Angeles, I took writing classes at UCLA Extension to generate spec material. But even more importantly, I voraciously read produced TV scripts and attended every seminar available that would put me in a room with the producers whose work I loved. I believe that listening to their experiences and reading their work is how I learned to write TV.

MW: HOW DID YOU HANDLE EARLY REJECTION?

SG: Pretty much the way I still handle rejection: I don’t like it... but it’s not terminal. I’ve always believed that it would be very unpleasant to collaborate with people who didn’t like my writing, and painful experience has proven this to be true time and again. For me, this business is waaaay too challenging to continue working in if it’s not fun at the same time. This means that I try to work with people whose creative sensibilities are similar to mine while at the same time, are respectful of the fact that our inevitable differences can be helpful to the creative process, rather than being an excuse for a power play. Differing perspectives combined in an environment of mutual respect can make the work more true, more creative and accessible to more people. It’s also more fun. When I was starting out, it was much harder for me to figure out who would be a healthy creative fit and who wasn’t, but over time it’s become much clearer, much earlier in the process. Believe me, it isn’t easy saying no to a great job, or leaving one that’s already started, but I’ve done it and I expect to do it again. So, rejection can go both ways, and in time, every rejection has led me to healthier, happier jobs.

MW: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST SALE?

SG: As someone who dreamed about Star Trek from the moment she saw it, I’m thrilled to say that my first sale was to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Actually, I was hired as their first Writers Guild intern just prior to being hired to write my first script (“The Most Toys” from season three). I literally went from pitching one week to taking pitches the next. But that statement’s pretty misleading because I’d been pitching ideas to [then Supervising Producer] Michael Piller just about every two weeks for something like six months. I think I pitched an entire season’s worth of stories before he asked me to come up with three different takes on one pitch that he particularly liked: Data gets kidnapped by someone who collects unique things. I still get kinda giddy about the fact that I used to go to work everyday on Star Trek – driving through those wrought-iron gates at Paramount, seeing Gene Roddenberry’s office across the hall, visiting the set (unlike most TV sets, I seem to remember the Enterprise sets having ceilings, and there was a great spot to stand in one of the long, curved hallways where there was no visible evidence that you weren’t actually standing on the starship!). I was very fortunate, and I’ll always be grateful to Michael Piller for giving me my start.

MW: WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR MOST SUCCESSFUL WORKS, AND WHY?

SG: Well, since I’ve already defined success as still being in the game, I believe that every script’s been successful, but that’s not a very satisfying answer, is it? I really do have a fondness for every script I’ve ever written, each for a different reason, though I think my unproduced, spec TV scripts from the late 90’s (an ER, a Homicide: Life on the Streets, and an Ally McBeal) contain some of my most accomplished writing, in part because they never had to be changed by the production process.
I’m very pleased with the two scripts that were nominated for Writers Guild Awards: Dragonheart: A New Beginning and Young Hercules’ “Hind Sight.” The Young Hercules as aired is very much the script I wrote, and best of all, the production team and the actors really got the feel of what I wanted to say about things and people not truly being what they appear to be. The title “Hind Sight” came from the producers, I explored it thematically in every way I could in my three drafts, and the folks who put the show on film did a terrific job bringing the script to life. That’s success!

I was involved with Dragonheart: ANB for a longer period of time than any other single writing job I’ve had to date – close to two years. As a script, as a film, and as a process of healthy collaboration, it’s been a huge success for me. I can’t mention Dragonheart without noting three of the incredible people I worked with: Producer Raffaella DeLaurentiis, who is so fun to work with that people from countries across the globe return to work with her again and again; Director Doug Lefler, who stood on the set in Slovakia and told me that it was his job to execute my vision (no Hollywood B.S... he meant it!), and Development Executive Ed Wacek, a brilliant man learned how to analyze scripts by analyzing, literally, a thousand scripts. After enduring a particularly painful work experience just prior to meeting these people, I can honestly say that their influence kept me in the business. That’s success. Oh, and it’s really fun for me to watch Dragonheart: ANB with kids, which I’ve done a lot. Seeing kids react just the way Raffaella, Doug, Ed and I had hoped is also a great experience of success.

The Aeon Flux pilot was very successful for me since I almost walked away from that job. I doubted I’d be able to find an emotional truth to play from such a misogynistic premise (the scantily clad heroine was violently killed at the end of all but one of the silent shorts on which the series was based), but my agent convinced me that writing a pilot would perk up my resume. As I started writing, I realized that a thematic struggle for self-possession fit perfectly, and I wrote the hell out of it. Since this theme is still in the produced episode, there’s success, once again!

The funny thing about success in Hollywood, I think, is that some very successful people don’t behave like they’re successful at all. So many tend to behave as if they need more to finally be successful: more money, more respect, more attention, more critical acclaim, more control of the work, more power over others. Since I choose to be content with what I get – even when the only way to be content is to move on – I always feel successful.
That’s it for this week. Shari’s interview continues next week. I want to thank Shari for taking the time to do this and then doing it so well.

See you in seven,
Marv

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