Written by: Matt Hutaff · March 21, 2005
Steve Kriozere contacted Earth Prime after a copy of his script for Sole Survivors surfaced in 2004. His Writer’s Draft is the only version that features Professor Arturo before the decision to fire John Rhys-Davies came down.
It was a draft he himself hadn’t seen since 1996.
Grateful for the read and happy to answer questions about the first script he sold professionally to Hollywood, Steve consented to this interview about writing for television and the joys of pitching crappy ideas. He’s written both original features and episodes of “Loonatics” for Kids WB, as well as various episodes of “Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi” for the Cartoon Network, Flatline: Resurrection Man (an original movie for the SciFi Channel) “and anonymous emails to Sabrina Lloyd.”
I moved out to Los Angeles in November of 1991 and started writing assorted junk a few months after that. I was “hip-pocketed” with an agent in April 1996 — hip-pocketing, for those who don’t know, is when an agent doesn’t officially sign you, but agrees to send out your samples (or junk in my case). If somebody bites, hooray; if not, tough luck, pal, now get outta here, you suck!
The spec that got me noticed was for The X-Files. It was about the Beale Ciphers, which is a real myth about a hidden map within the Declaration of Independence where a horde of gold is purportedly buried. (Yeah, like “National Treasure” – I was ripped off!) Anyway, this hidden map didn’t lead to gold, it led to where the founding fathers had found a crashed spaceship buried in the Earth. It was Mulder racing the Shadow Government to get to the crash site first. Cool, huh?
If you know the show runner (executive producer), that’s probably the easiest. If you have nude pictures of the show runner in compromising positions, that might make it easy too. If neither of those are happening for you, hopefully your spec is really, really good and your agent is a wonderful bullshit artist.
My agent called me and said that David Peckinpah read my X-Files spec, liked it and wanted to me to pitch ideas for Sliders. I didn’t know Peckinpah, I didn’t have any nude pictures of Peckinpah and my agent isn’t a good bullshit artist. Total fluke.
I knew of it but didn’t watch regularly. Having grown up in Chicago, I always thought the name of the show was funny because ‘slider’ is slang for a White Castle hamburger.
Yes — I spoke with Peckinpah on the phone. He said to come in with 3 ideas and to have them very well thought out, including all the teasers, act breaks, character stuff, etc. Since I was new at pitching, I didn’t realize that this is usually more than necessary. I got the feeling that other people who came in to pitch had really half-assed ideas, not very well thought out. Also, Peckinpah told me that him and his staff were having trouble getting story ideas cleared by Fox so if my ideas could liken to popular movies, the network execs would “get it.” I think the fans might find that last part interesting; look at the later part of Season 3. Sounds to me like this is what Fox wanted at the time. Who knows for sure?
David Peckinpah and Tony Blake. I remember my meeting was delayed a few days because an actor [Ken Steadman] was accidentally killed on the set during the filming of the episode Desert Storm. Haven’t seen Tony Blake since that day.
The meeting was at the Universal lot in Peckinpah’s office. I was nervous as hell, so I got there early and sat outside in a courtyard going over my notes. I think I got up to pee like seven times before I finally went into the building where his office is. The anticipation of this meeting scared the piss outta me! Before heading inside I ran into a friend of mine who helped me calm my nerves.
I met Peckinpah and he introduced me to Blake. After I pitched my 3 ideas (and they liked zombies), I remember Peckinpah saying to me, “I don’t want to blow smoke up your butt, but you were the best prepared person to come in here.” Hearing that made me feel really good. I had only been on one pitch meeting before Sliders (it was for Poltergeist: The Legacy) and I didn’t sell anything to them. I knew they wanted to do something with a zombie world and they said they would be in touch. Schwing!
Well, now that you see what I was told to bring in, “zombies” might make more sense. I am also a big fan of George Romero, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. I saw “Evil Dead” on video way back in the day. I also loved, just loved, Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend.” Back in the mid-90’s when I pitched Sliders, “zombie” stuff wasn’t happening. Now it’s the shit again and a little overexposed. I guess I was onto something back then.
Two. The first had to do with killer bees being a real threat to the United States and the Sliders arrive to find the city empty because an attack had killed many and sent the rest to hiding. I guess my “movie” parallel was “The Swarm.” Ugh.
The other idea had to do with the Sliders arriving in a world where their doubles were accidentally given special abilities by one of Quinn’s scientific experiments (a la the Fantastic Four — the creation of the slide device/wormhole gave them each superpowers). They worked together as a super hero team but were tragically killed by some bad guy who had taken over the city. The Sliders get mistaken for their doubles and must don their old costumes and become their deceased selves’ roles, obviously with no super powers, and save the city.
I pitched the killer bees one first. Not happening. The superhero one was next. I got cut off midway by Blake who thought it was too much like a Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman episode. I think Blake was getting annoyed that my pitches were so long and detailed, but that was what I was told to bring in. After I pitched “zombies”, they obviously liked it because Peckinpah and Blake started asking me questions. Then they started talking among themselves about where to shoot stuff, etc. These are all good signs.
It was sweet! And after paying $2500 to the Writers Guild (new member initiation dues, ouch!), I spent the rest like anybody else… on cheap booze and hookers.
They purchased the story with an option for me to write it. This means I was contracted to write an outline and they could fire me after I turned it in and have somebody else write the script. I figured this would happen, because I have no confidence in myself. Fortunately, they liked my enthusiasm and my outline so my option to write the teleplay was exercised. Blake later told me this wasn’t usually the case with freelancers on the show. I survived a big hurdle here and was too naive to know it. I can’t remember the specific time I was given to write the outline, however, or the first draft.
Anything involving the studio was between the studio and Peckinpah. I never talked to the people at Fox. But they must have liked “zombie world” because they okayed the story.
In my pitch I had Wade getting infected by the zombies and having her want Quinn to kill her. Sabrina Lloyd is adorable and I wanted to really feature her. And meet her. Obviously this was changed to Quinn getting infected after various meetings with Peckinpah and Blake. Also, I had the “Debra Carbol” character as the only non-zombie character the Sliders meet in this world. In my draft of the script her husband was infected and she had him locked up. The Sliders find a cure for him in the end. The “Doctor Tassler” character was added to the “Maggie” draft, which I had nothing to do with writing. Also, I didn’t have a reason for the zombie outbreak in my initial pitch. The producers came up with the “slimming medicine” turned virus later on and I expanded on it.
I had heard that John was leaving the show after I had turned in my script. I didn’t hear anything from the producers for a while and I figured my script must have been shitcanned because he was in it. Eventually, I called Peckinpah’s office and left a message, dreading that my show would never be produced. I got a call back from Scott Smith Miller, who wrote on staff and said he was overseeing the rewrite on my script and that Peckinpah would be directing it. I was very happy to hear this. I ran into Paul Jackson many years later and introduced myself. I remember him telling me that he and Tony Blake did a big rewrite of the draft too. Maybe they rewrote Miller?
I remember hearing that there were 6 scripts or story outlines (including mine, which was a script at this point) with Arturo. They were all scrapped except for mine. I guess they liked the idea enough to retool it. Very lucky for me.
I hadn’t read my draft in years! It wasn’t bad – some wooden dialogue (that’s easy to fix), but it seemed fun, tense and well-paced. I even laughed a few times at jokes I didn’t remember writing. I still think Arturo stuggling with Quinn’s “wish” to be left behind or put out of his misery before the next slide is stronger emotionally than the possibility of Maggie killing Quinn. The Debra Carbol character could be changed to be more hard-edged and made to seem like she’s going to kill Quinn. Or maybe another survivor could have been added, some reckless, unpredicatable wild card person living with Debra, and they might want to off Quinn because he’s infected.
I liked some of the Wade and Remmy alone together stuff, and I think Debra asking Arturo to remain behind and help if they didn’t find a cure by the time of the next slide was pretty cool. I liked that Debra’s zombie husband was being kept locked up. I liked Remmy’s smoking head. I thought adding the very, very brief “Glamour World” slide at the end was funny after such a dark episode. As for lines… Remmy, before barging into a room, says a line about going on “four” instead of “three” because there are four beats in a measure and this is not a polka.
They spelled my last name right in the credits.
Nah, I was just kidding around when I said that in a previous interview. But obviously a certain dynamic was missing without Arturo around. And two new ‘dynamics’ entered the show with Maggie, with help from some gratuitous clothing and not-so-clever camera angles.
Honestly, it was strange at first, but as I worked more in the biz I realized that writing for television is very collaborative. Things get rewritten all the time. Especially freelancers. I only turned in a first draft to Sliders. Scripts go thru MANY drafts. I never got a chance to rewrite mine because of the “Arturo-leaving-the-show” factor. Still, I was happy to see that my initial story idea was still there. This was my first produced episode of TV. If it all ended right there, I’d still have that super cool moment.
I even went to visit the set because I was so excited my script was getting made, even thought the only things that remained were zombies and the Lipron ad poster. I met all the cast members and they were all great. I remember that each time Peckinpah yelled “cut,” Sabrina Lloyd would go over to one of the crew guys and start making out with him! I heard she later married the guy but it didn’t last. Hey Sabrina, call me!
Yep. Universal had a new syndicated show at the time called Team Knight Rider and I got to go in and pitch ideas for that show. I had a very good experience with the producers there and I ended up writing five episodes for them!
There is no set route to do this. If you have a few freelance episodes under your belt, good spec samples, a good personality (staffs work very closely together so you need to be a team player), a good agent, then you MIGHT get lucky and get staffed. Once again, knowing the exec producer or having nude photos of him/her is the best way.
If there’s something else you like besides writing for television or film and you make a good living doing it, stay away.
Ha! Yes, that was my first job in “Hollywood.” I know you all had a huge crush on “Six.” C’mon, admit it! I worked there during season 4. It was a great experience. Bill Bixby (rest in peace, my friend) was the director. He was a wonderful guy and will always be missed. As a PA you get see what everyone on a show does. Great learning experience. I xeroxed so many scripts on that show I think I may be sterile from standing too close to the copy machine.
|Previous: Cleavant Derricks||Next: Zina Saunders and David O. Miller|