Person of Interest Screenwriter/Co-Executive Producer David Slack Explains Screenwriting

Interview with Screenwriter/Producer, David Slack.

Please tell us where you’re from and what influenced you to pursue a career in screenwriting?
I’m from Dallas [TX]. Initially, I started out as an actor and got a degree in Theatre from Southern Methodist University. I did a little writing in college but didn’t really get serious about it until after I graduated and some friends and I were trying to make an indie film. Along the way, I discovered that we don’t just do what we’re good at we do what we can stand. [laughs] I can be in a room for 12 to 16 hours straight, by myself, messing around with the way a couple of lines of dialogue go; something most people couldn’t stand doing. I realized that having that kind of control over the story was really important to me. Plus, it’s the cheapest art form. A couple of dollars can get you a pen and paper and nobody can stop you. So writing became my focus and my identity; I love what I do enormously. Even on my worst day as a writer I still enjoy what I do.

What made you decide to take off the acting hat and pursue a screenwriting career?
For me it was a pretty organic transition and it had everything to do with where I was seeing results and success. When I was 22 (years old), I took a long hard look in the mirror and realized that I was not Brad Pitt. Now that I’ve been writing for a while, I couldn’t see myself doing what actors do. They’re incredibly patient. Actors sometimes wait 5 hours for everybody else to get everything right; from lighting to make-up and wardrobe. Then you get to work for ten minutes before someone interrupts you. I don’t have that kind of patience.

What was your first professional writing gig?
I moved to LA and my first job was temping at FOX Latin America because I speak Spanish decently enough to get by. But the first actual job that I landed was as the production secretary on the MEN IN BLACK animated series. I was there for a little while and then I hopped around a bit before I wound up getting a job as Duane Capizzi’s assistant, a position I held for about 2 years. Then I moved on to BIG GUY AND RUSTY THE BOY ROBOT. The show was performing alright but they took it off the air before my first episode aired. So the first episode I wrote, that actually aired, was the JACKIE CHAN ADVENTURES. I wrote episode 2 on that animated series and I ended up writing like 23 episodes over the years.

That’s what helped propel me forward in animation and I just rose up through the ranks. I’ve had two different careers. I went up the ranks and became a show-runner in animation, and then I made the leap to primetime television. I still work in animation and I enjoy them both very much. It’s really nice to have that flexibility.

Did you take any classes or training for screenwriting?
Yes. I studied playwriting and screenwriting in college, but most of what I’ve learned has been by doing it professionally. Duane Capizzi, the guy I just mentioned a second ago, mentored me. I was Duane’s assistant on the MEN IN BLACK animated series. When a new show called, BIG GUY AND RUSTY THE BOY ROBOT, came along, Duane gave me my first shot. He was a wonderful teacher who helped me learn how to deliver scripts where the plot worked and the story was not only interesting and exciting, but also producible. Writing for kids is unlike adult writing, where you can throw in the right political or philosophical argument, or get the right attractive person and the audience will forgive you for having holes in the plot. With kids it’s all about the story; they want to know what happens next. So the plots really have to work, and Duane was tremendous at teaching the mechanics of how the story works.

What software do you prefer?
I’ve worked on both Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft. For most of my time in animation, I just used a template that has been made over the years in Microsoft Word, which I still sometimes miss because there were a bunch of macros that formatted the scripts. I even wrote some of the macros that may still be passed around. I don’t love any particular program because there are things that I like and dislike about both Final Draft and Screenwriter.