Hello, Spongey here.
It’s time for a post that has been in the works for.,..uh over a year. Sorry about that. Anyway, a few years ago I did an interview with Phineas and Ferb writer Jon Colton Batry. I made a big deal back then about doing an interview and here I am again with another. And between then I’ve had contact with people who worked on things I talked about in small ways.
Not to mention that whole Jim Kreig thing which was basically an interview. And hey, he worked on a show that had Haunting Hour people on it which is a good transition! yep, this time around I’ve snagged Erik Patterson, who is part of the duo that also includes Jessica Scott. He’s got some extensive experience so it was another pretty interesting experience.
Please introduce yourself, Erik.
Hey there. So I’m Erik Patterson. I’m a screenwriter and a playwright. My career has spanned several genres, from horror to rom coms to drama and comedy. My writing partner and I were nominated for two Emmy Awards for The Haunting Hour. We had a great experience on that show, so I’m excited to revisit it with you.
There, we’ve all our introduction stuff out of the way. As a result of him being busy, the responses took a bit which is why this took so long. I’ll say up front this won’t be as big as that Jon one mostly due to us wanting to get us out at this point. That and I basically got in the major questions, didn’t have too many left by the end of this. With said, let’s just get into it.
This, is An Interview With Erik Patterson
How did you get your start in the industry?
It all started with Michael J. Fox. Seriously. (I’ve never met him, but if I ever do I’m going to thank him for inspiring me to do what I do.) When I was a kid, I was obsessed with movies. I would go every chance I could get. And when I saw Back to the Future for the first time, I walked out of the theater and told my mom: “I want to do THAT.”
To be honest, I might have meant I wanted to time travel, but the next best thing was acting, so my mom signed me up for an acting class. I acted in plays throughout high school and then I was a theater major at Occidental College. When I graduated from school, I was at a crossroads. I loved acting, but I knew I didn’t love it enough to actually pursue it as a career.
But I wanted to stay in the business. I’d taken a playwriting class my senior year at Oxy, so I started writing plays. And let me tell you, playwriting in Los Angeles is not a lucrative career–despite the fact that there really is a lively and thriving theater scene in LA. Playwriting in general is just not very lucrative. But I love writing plays, and that’s how I found my voice as a writer. Around that time, I hooked up with this theater called Theatre of NOTE and they produced several of my earlier plays.
And then, while I was writing plays, I was also doing a million random jobs to make ends meet. But I was also meeting people, and networking, and trying to find a foothold in film and TV. I got a job as the Writer’s Room Production Assistant on a TV show called Night Visions, which was where I met my future writing partner, Jessica Scott.
We started out as acquaintances, then we became friends, then we became best friends, and during that friendship journey we came up with an idea for a TV show called Out There, which was basically a gay Wonder Years. We decided to try to sell it. We pitched the idea to a producer friend, who loved it, and so we all partnered on the project together, and started pitching it around town. This was before Glee and a lot of the feedback we got was that people loved the pitch but the world wasn’t ready for a TV show about a gay teenager. Which was frustrating, and wrong. So we didn’t give up, and we eventually sold the pilot to Vh1, when they were just getting into scripted TV.
They never ended up making the show, but by then Jessica and I had formed a great partnership. She was already a TV writer before we had met, and she had worked on a ton of genre shows, including The X-Files. So now we were a team, which is how I got my start in film and TV.
Since you mentioned your writing partner Jessica Scott, lets talk a bit about her, what is it that you makes you two such good partners? what do each of you generally add to your scripts and the like, and what’s the difference between your work with and without her or a partner in general?
As soon as Jessica and I started writing together, it was amazing how seamless our writing styles meshed. All writing partnerships are different, some partners take turns doing different drafts, other partners sit at the same computer together. The way Jessica and I work is, we write detailed outlines and then we split up the scenes equally. Then after we’re done writing our scenes, we put our pages together. And it just meshes.
I always love that moment when we put the scenes together and see what we have. Jessica went to film school at USC, whereas I never studied screenwriting formally. So when we started writing together, I definitely learned a lot of the technical aspects of screenwriting from her. In terms of who does what in each script,
I think one of our strengths is that we both usually want to write all of the scenes and we have fun debating who gets to write what, and fighting for scenes that we’re each passionate about.
Often we have to make compromises: oh, if you get THAT scene, then I definitely get THIS scene. Things like that. The remarkable thing is, when we put the scenes together, I often forget which scenes I wrote and which ones she wrote.
In terms of my work without Jessica, my plays tend to be drawn more from my own life. Not that they’re all autobiographical, necessarily — but usually there’s a kernel of truth from my own life that I like to explore with my plays. I got my start doing plays.
One of my favorite things to do is to sit in a dark theater working on a new play. I love movies and TV too, though — it’s just not as immediately satisfying because you have to wait (often many months) for the finished product to come together.
What’ are the main differences between writing for Tv and film, is there more or less freedom or whatnot?
The biggest difference is really about how you’re able to tell a story. With a movie, you need to be more economical in your storytelling. Whereas with TV, it’s almost like you’re putting a puzzle together. You’re setting up story points that you will pay off later in the series, you’re setting up longer character arcs. And you have to map all of that out early on. Things will change as you work on a series, but the more you map out at the start, the more you have to work with, and the richer the work ends up being.
Now a more specific one: You wrote Cinderella Story 2 and 3, which have decent gaps between release and I’m curious as to why they decided to bring back that series and what it was like working on those
I’m not sure why it took them so long, but I know the reason they decided to do them in the first place was a business one: the first one did well, and then the second one did well too…so they wanted to capitalize on that.
I loved working on both of those movies. We had a fantastic director, Damon Santostefano, who was great to collaborate with. We were on set for both movies. They shot the Selena Gomez one in November in Vancouver, and the movie was supposed to take place in Beverly Hills in June, so Selena wore a lot of skirts throughout the movie, and…it was FREEZING. So whenever she’s in close-up, she’s wearing several pairs of sweatpants and there are people standing just below the camera with heaters.
Also, the actors would chew ice right before the director said “action,” so that their breath was cold and you couldn’t see it on camera.
One of the things about working in the movies is, you often watch movies and think about all of the things going on just outside of the frame. So when I see Another Cinderella Story, I’m always picturing things like that. But I think that movie came out really well, and even though I haven’t seen it in a long time, I’m sure if I watched it today I’d get lost in it.
When we were shooting the third Cinderella movie, we had to deal with some scheduling conflicts on set. It looked like one of the actors wasn’t going to be available to shoot the big finale sequence…and so we had to rewrite that whole sequence at the last minute, so it would make sense that he wasn’t in those scenes. But then, ultimately, he was able to be there, and they shot the sequence as we had originally written it. But we were prepared either way.
That’s the life of a writer. You really never know what curve balls are going to be thrown at you and you have to be ready.
I was excited when I remembered you wrote Radio Rebel as I’ve always wanted to talk to someone involved with a Disney Channel Movie. I’d like to know what that was like and what it’s doing a DCOM, given they have their own patented style they must adhere to in a way.
Radio Rebel was a fun one to make. On paper, it’s a silly premise — you’ve got a shy girl who secretly becomes a radio DJ and gains the attention of the entire school — but the core of the movie is this girl becoming confident and finding her voice.
One of the key things about DCOMs is that they like to tell aspirational stories, so their audience can watch and say “I want to be like that.” And that’s where the movie finds its heart.
But we also got to have a lot of fun with the silliness of the premise and I was happy that Disney embraced our sense of humor and let us run with things, like putting the love interest in a dancing sandwich costume and giving Tara a moment where she realizes she isn’t the only one who’s been living a double life, the guy she’s in love with is the dancing sandwich!
By the way, Radio Rebel was an adaptation of a book called Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph, and I hope that fans of the movie go back and read the book because it’s lovely. Also, the plot of the book and the movie deviate in various ways, so whether you start with the book or the movie, you still get to discover the story in a new light each time.
I unfortunately am not familiar enough with a fair amount of your other film credits such as “Deep Blue Sea 2″ and ” Sophia Grace & Rosie’s Royal Adventure” to go too deep into asking about so consider this a question asking for any insight of those other films, in general.
The first Deep Blue Sea movie was a ridiculous and absurd shark disaster movie, and we had a great time working on the sequel. Our goal was to embrace the absurdity and make it a wild ride. I only wish we had a bigger budget and could have done all of the effects that we originally intended. We were definitely hamstrung by a small budget.
The interesting (or maybe it’s random) link between Deep Blue Sea 2 and Sophia Grace & Rosie’s Royal Adventure is that they both shot in Cape Town, South Africa. Sophia Grace and Rosie are these adorable young girls from the UK who were discovered by Ellen — she used to bring them onto her show to sing and do red carpet interviews. They always dressed themselves in tutus, and they fancied themselves to be kind of like princesses.
So put them into an actual princess movie that we loosely based on the story of King Lear, where the king is retiring and he has to choose which of his three daughters will replace him on the throne. Sophia Grace and Rosie befriend the princess who’s “least likely” to become Queen, and they help her find the strength and confidence to lead her country.
Oh, and it’s a musical. And there’s a talking, magical duck. And a prison break.
Through my research and by that I mean looking through IMDB some more I found you wrote a few Hallmark Channel movies. I just have to know how that process went and what it was like.
We pitched all of our Hallark movies to the network. They have a very specific mandate and story-telling formula that really works for them, so when you’re writing for them it’s all about making sure you hit certain beats. Our goal has always been to find original ways to get to those beats, and to bring something fresh and new to the story within that structure. It’s a great challenge.
You’ve touched on your playwritting and I’d like to know more about some of that. It’s not a field I’m totally familiar with so I’d love some in sight into what you’re stuff on that front. What is that process like and what are some highlights from those works, at least to you?
I actually teach a playwriting class in Los Angeles, so I’ve thought a lot about the difference between the different mediums. I’ve had several students who write for film/TV but wanted some guidance as they wrote their first play, and they’re always surprised by how much more freedom there is in playwriting. Scenes in film and tv tend to be much shorter. But when you’re writing for the stage, you can have a scene that goes on and on, and really go a lot deeper with character work. Or, at least, go deeper in a different way. I enjoy getting to go back and forth between both mediums.
My plays tend to be dark comedies. My play SICK is about a hypochondriac mother who has to come to terms with her invented health issues when her young son is diagnosed with a very real one. My play ONE OF THE NICE ONES is about a woman who blackmails her boss in order to obtain an illegal-but-necessary medical procedure. I like to look at people in desperate situations, and lately I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with form.
Now to get into the work that is the main thing that introduced me to your work: Haunting Hour. How did you and Jessica come to write for that show?
I’d love to talk to you about Haunting Hour. The thing that made that such a fun job was that we had the opportunity to tell so many different types of stories. We had worked for the creators of that show on Night Visions, and so they brought us in for Haunting Hour. And the process was, all the writers would pitch various genres and worlds we wanted to work in and then they’d say THAT ONE and we’d move forward from there. Is there anything you want to know about the specific episodes?
You mentioned that Radio Rebel was loosely based on a book so this is a good time to ask about what adapting source materiel from others is like, especially when the final product ends up being pretty different .This of course also includes Haunting Hour’s Pumpkinhead episode, the only episode you wrote that is one of the episode based on a R.L Stine short story from Nightmare Hour.
Adapting is a really interesting process, that changes from situation to situation. You generally have a studio that’s saying things like “we love the source material and we want you to stick really closely to it,” or they might say “we love the main idea here, but feel free to take it in new directions.” You end up going in new directions either way because you can be so much more visual in your storytelling than you would be in a book. With the Haunting Hour episodes, we mostly did original stories. With Pumpkinheads, we wanted to surprise readers by taking the story in a new direction for the show. We actually wrote two Pumpkinheads episodes — that was such a great monster character that I feel like, if the show had continued for more seasons, we probably would have returned to that world one or two more times.
I’ve noticed your Haunting Hour episodes generally tend to be more comedic. Was this a conscious decision going into them or did it just sort of happen as you thought them out?
Jessica and I love writing comedy. We actually recently started a satirical comedy website called Gleek.com, where we roast things, from the sacred to the mundane. We love to experiment with tone, and we had fun playing with audience expectations in Haunting Hour. If you start with a comedic situation and then take a right turn into horror, those moments of horror land in a different way. You might not be expecting the scare as much. As comedic as our Stage Fright episode was, it ends in a really dark place. The witch basically says she’s going to eat all the parents in that auditorium, and then BOOM the episode ends. All of those parents are getting eaten. That’s dark! But there are so many comedic moments leading up to it that I feel like it helped us get away with putting really incredibly dark moments into a show that was aimed at young people.
I found out through my research that Jessica Scott is credited for one episode of Goosebumps (Deep Trouble). I’m wondering if you know a bit about what what it was like her on there, even if it was just for the one two parter. She’s one of the few people credited on both Goosebumps and Haunting Hour so I’m curious to learn more of the differences in working for those shows.
Goosebumps was before my time! Jessica and I weren’t partners yet, and we didn’t know each other yet when she was working on that show. But it was made by the same producers who did Haunting Hour, so I imagine it was a fairly similar process.
Okay, this Haunting Hour question is stupidly specific but it’s something that’s been bugging me since I saw it. At one point in “Wrong Number”, Steffani says “Thanks for coming by Mrs. Biavich” with a big emphasis on the ‘vich” which sounds a lot like ‘bitch’ when she says it. Is this a case of my mind playing tricks, was she actually saying, just putting an odd inflection that ended up sounding weird, or an infliction that was supposed to sound a bit like ‘bitch’ without actually saying it?
This is funny. I love that you asked this. Can the answer be both? The truth is, that character was named after a teacher Jessica had in high school. We often name characters after people we know. It’s a fun game we like to play — everyone in my family had their name on Haunting Hour at some point. But we also think a lot about what names are right for each character, and the fact that that teacher’s name sounds a lot like “bitch” wasn’t lost on us. It felt appropriate for the character. And thankfully, Debby Ryan leaned into that in her performance of the line.
And there’s our interview. All things considered, this turned out alright., I basically got what I wanted. Perhaps it’s not the biggest blowout ever but it”s pretty serviceable. Erik was pretty interesting chat with and we had plenty of solid insight. Got any closing thoughts, Erik?
It was great chatting with you. Thanks for keeping the love for The Haunting Hour alive!
Your welcome!. Hope you all enjoyed this, even if it took too long lol. I have no idea if I’ll do a formal interview like this again but I lost I got like 2.,5 in. Anyway, thank you Erik for doing all this with me. It was a pretty neat experience..