Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Geri Cole

Promotional poster for KING RICHARD

Host Geri Cole talks to Zach Baylin—screenwriter of KING RICHARD—about how a serendipitous meeting before heading to the US Open led to the script landing in the hands of Will Smith, his experience collaborating with the Williams family, and the importance of writing every day, because even a few lines can feel like a success.

Zach Baylin‘s script, KING RICHARD, was #2 in the 2018 Black List survey, and is his first produced writing credit. His next project is CREED III, which is currently in production for MGM.

KING RICHARD is the true story of how Venus and Serena Williams were raised and coached by their parents to become the tennis legends they are today. Zach’s screenplay won the 2022 Black Film Critic Circle Award and is currently in the running for a Writers Guild Award, a BAFTA Award, and an Academy Award.

KING RICHARD was released in November 2021. It’s currently playing in theaters and VOD.

Seasons 7-11 of OnWriting are hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received a Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys.

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The series was created and produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producer & Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: Hi, I’m Geri Cole and you’re listening to OnWriting. A podcast from the Writer’s Guild of America, East.

In each episode, you’re going to hear from the people behind your favorite films and television series. Talking about their writing process, how they got their project from the page to the screen, and so much more.

Today, I’d like to welcome Zach Baylin, screenwriter of King Richard, now in theaters and VOD.

King Richard is the true story of how Venus and Serena Williams were raised and coached by their parents to be tennis greats. Zach’s original screenplay won the 2022 Black Film Critic Circle Award and is nominated for a Writer’s Guild Award, a BAFTA Award, and an Academy Award.

In our interview, we talk about the films journey from a serendipitous meeting before heading to the US Open, to the script landing in the hands of Will Smith, Zach’s experience collaborating with the Williams family, and the importance of writing every day because even a few lines can feel like a success.

First congratulations on the success of this film. I was watching it and I was like, I know what this is. It’s not going to get me and then it got me. I was like damnit. It got me.

Yes, I have read a bunch about this, but for the sake of the listener, could you talk about this incredible story about how you came to write this film? Because correct me if I’m wrong, this is your first writing credit, not the first thing you’ve written obviously, but first credit.

Zach Baylin: Yeah. Yeah. This is my first produced credit and I got involved with it really through a general meeting that I took in New York. I was living in New York at the time. I’d sold a TV show a couple years before that was centered in the world of tennis. I had some background. I’ve done some research into that world and I was a big tennis fan.

It was really a very sort of circuitous route that I met this producer named Tim White on a general, we were meeting about a different project. Before I left the meeting, I mentioned to him that I was headed to the US Open just to go watch as a spectator. Tim was a huge tennis player growing up and he essentially said like, “If you like tennis, give five more minutes because I have another movie that I’ve been trying to make for a long time and I haven’t figured it out really.”

He told me about Richard and about Venus and Serena’s upbringing a little bit and that he thought it had the makings of a really great story, but had not found a way into it. Had not figured out how to successfully contact the family. I just really fell in love with it right away.

I knew tangentially about Richard just from being a tennis fan and from cheering for Venus and Serena, but I didn’t know the details about how he had come up with the idea that he was going to try and raise tennis superstars. That’s really where I began.

I began reading about him from that inception point and realized, I think like Tim had that there was an incredible sports underdog story to this, but even more than that, that there was a real chance to tell a unique character study of a guy that doesn’t really get a chance to be represented in movies very much. That he was an exceptional character and I really just fell in love with that aspect of it.

Geri Cole: What was writing that first draft like? I imagine then there was like, “Okay, we’re going to move forward with this.” Rather, I read that you were like, “We need to have a solid script if we’re really try and hook the family, we need to have a good script.”

Zach Baylin: Yeah, essentially. I mean, there were a couple different steps. To convince Tim and his brother, Trevor, who are producers and have a company called Star Thrower. They had made The Post and a couple other really cool movies.

To get the job from them, I spent basically like a weekend where I just dropped up everything and I read every bit I could about Venus, and Serena, and Richard. I mean, I probably read six books or something in this weekend because Serena had written a book and Macci wrote a book, the coach from Florida. Richard wrote a book.

There was some random hitting coaches along the years who had written books and so I read everything. Pretty quickly came back to them and said, “Here’s what the movie I believe is about. I really think it’s about at the core of it, it’s about Richard and his sort of desire, internal desire to find respect and to find self respect. That tennis is an outlet for that. That it should begin here in Compton in the early 80s, late 90s and it should end with Venus’s first pro tournament.”

I wrote them that email early on and they agreed to bring me on and then sort of collectively, we all decided that… And we could’ve tried to go pitch the family at that point. We had a pretty clear idea of what we thought the movie it would be, but again, I didn’t have any credits. We didn’t think we had a strong enough package essentially to get them to sign off. We decided that I would go and try to write the best script we could and then take that out as the calling card for the movie.

Then I dug in for a couple months where all I just did was research the family and research Richard. Tim, who again, was a big tennis player and sort of grew up in the same tournaments that they were playing in and so he was able to facilitate me meeting a bunch of their contemporaries. We also sort of had to keep it quiet that we were doing it because we didn’t think that… I don’t know. Concerned that if word got out that we were trying to do it, that it could be killed before we got to the point where we could show them something that felt really exciting.

Yeah, I just did a ton of research. Ton of reading, watching every bit of tape that Richard ever made because he was a constant chronicler. He had a VHS camcorder all the time and was taping everything. I wrote the first draft of the script probably in four or five months. I went to my agent and pretty quickly we got a call that Will was interested. It was pretty nuts.

Geri Cole: That’s crazy.

Zach Baylin: It really was crazy because I don’t even we were going to take a swing like that yet. I think we thought maybe we try to bring a really great filmmaker on board and then someone that had some clout that could get in those doors. I didn’t I feel like I could, or that even the producers could.

Yeah, I remember we got a call. Tim called me and he said like, “This is pretty crazy, but Will read it and if we can get the family, he wants to do it.”

Geri Cole: Wow.

How did he get his hands on it? And this actually is also, you submitted this first draft to the Blacklist and is that do you think what it sort of helped create enough buzz or how did that platform help the script?

Zach Baylin: I think from my understanding with The Black List, there’s sort of two sections of The Black List. There’s the submission process where you as a writer can send your scripts to them, which is not what we did. Then there is an annual sort of list that The Black List puts out at the end of every year. That’s like, “These are the 100 best unproduced scripts from this year as voted on or selected by executives at different studios and stuff.”

My script ended up on that list, but I think by that point, which I’ve had a couple scripts on there over the years and it’s been really just an amazing kind of boost of confidence if nothing else because I, again, not having had things produced, you like to see your script on those lists. At the end be like, “Oh, people are actually reading these things and their responding to them,” and gave me a lot of ammunition moving forward that even though they weren’t getting made that they were connecting with someone.

With this one I think Will had gotten involved and by the time it was on that annual end of the year list, we had already got in touch with the family and the movie had some momentum to actually get made. I mean the path that it took to get from even once we had Will and the script sort of started to get out and people were reading it, it was really exciting, but we still didn’t have the families’ involvement.

I knew sort of that there was a limit to how much research I was going to be able to do and actually bring everyone else in the script to life without sitting down with them. The story was broken, the script really worked, but I knew it could be more specific to them and more nuance with Venus and Serena, and Oracene. I really needed to like sit down with them to get that.

Geri Cole: You’ve actually perfectly led me to my next question, which was how did your writing change once you sat down and the family got involved and sat down with the family?

Zach Baylin: It changed a lot. I mean, it was a really interesting process that essentially we were finally able to convince their sister, Isha Price, who became a producer on the film to read this script. Isha read it. We waited this really tense night to see… I mean, it was pretty terrifying because it would not just like, is she going to like the story? But it was her family. It was depicting scenes in her life and was the ultimate barometer of whether we had total really messed it up or if it was going to feel accurate.

She came back the next day and said like, “It’s really good.” I think the family really responded to the weigh into it. Then said, “If you’re willing to sit down and hear the other perspectives, and the other details, and really be collaborative, then we’ll get on this ride with you guys.” We did that.

Then the process became I sat with Isha and with Oracene, their mother, over the course of two weeks during the US Open. Every other day when Serena wasn’t playing, I would meet with the family. It was incredible and we’d go through the script.

You have discussions where Oracene read a scene where she gets in a big fight with Richard about children that he had had in the past. She read that and said, “Oh, you really want to put this in the script?” I said, “I think it needs to be in the movie. It’s a big part of who Richard was as a person and think it must’ve been a huge formative moment for everyone and we think we need to address it.”She said, “Okay, well, if it’s going to be in the movie, let me tell you exactly actually how I found out about it and let me tell you how I felt about it.”

What she said is almost verbatim what’s in the movie to me. They were extremely open with things. I rewrote based on those interviews and it really helped get her voice right and helped bring out things that I think frankly as a white guy, I probably wasn’t even aware of. I don’t know, things that were going to end up being really powerful in the film.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the scene towards the end were Oracene braids the girl’s hair. I had seen an interview with the one piece of tape on Oracene that I had was this video from the 90s where she talked about putting the beads in and what it meant.

That was always in the script, but I don’t think we saw her actually doing it and sitting down with Oracene and sitting down with Aunjanue and really saying like, “What needs to be in this movie that I’m not seeing?” They both talked about that scene and then we wrote it to make sure it was there.

Geri Cole: I’m going to be honest that’s the part that got me.

Zach Baylin: See too. I think it’s so beautiful. [crosstalk 00:11:59]

Geri Cole: Was everything true? Because sometimes liberties need to be taken for the sake of storytelling. I’m thinking specifically of that drive-by scene that I was like, wait, what? Did I happen?

Zach Baylin: That’s crazy.

Geri Cole: Also, I mean, though I did actually read that scene, but at the time I was like, did this really happen when Venus initially turns down the Nike offer on that first night of her tournament? Was there any zhuzhing just for the sake of storytelling?

Zach Baylin: Not those big moments. I mean, probably my original script, the one that went out had so much fidelity to what happened, that there was too much detail if anything. I remember when Venus went to Oakland before that pro tournament, she spoke at a high school and I had the whole transcript of everything she said. It was this really incredibly both vulnerable and emotional speech that she gave, but it she was on the cusp of becoming a professional, but still was such a teenager talking to other teenagers.

I loved the scene and it was totally unnecessary to be in the movie, but I had it in there. I had the whole speech in the movie and we cut it, but from my part I thought that the story of what Richard and the family did is so unbelievable and so improbable that if the big turning points in the movie were inaccurate or fictionalized, I thought it would dilute the power of just how improbable their journey was.

Even that scene where Richard nearly kills those young men, that’s from Richard’s book. Richard wrote about that story and we changed the setting of it. We moved the timeframe around a little bit, but that’s a moment that he felt was a divine intervention in his life. I thought it could be a really compelling way to throw us into the next portion of the script. That was true.

Yeah, the Nike sponsorship deal being that weekend on the cusp of the tournament was also true. Rick Macci wrote about being there and freaking out about them not taking the deal. Yeah, I really tried to make sure that every time there was obviously the conversations are dramatized and there are a few points where we amalgamated characters, but really it’s really accurate. That Nancy Reagan event is a real event and yeah.

Geri Cole: Speaking of that speech she gave at the high school, how did you edit? What was your principle in trying to figure out what was going to go in and what was going to say out?

The thing that was included that I loved was that news clip where she’s being interviewed and the interviewer was like, “You’re so confident.” And Richard comes in and be like, “Oh no, no, no.” Which is a clip that I’ve seen and also love. Gets me every time.

How are you like what goes in? What goes out?

Zach Baylin: Well, I mean, I took the guided principle at the beginning and try if it didn’t happen in these years, then it wasn’t going to be in the movie. That was not sustainable in the end because that interview that you’re talking about happened the next year, but we thought it was so powerful and it was such a crystallization of what Richard saw his role as a parent at that moment was and who Venus saw him was and saw herself. Definitely we pulled that in out of the timeframe.

Obviously Venus and Serena are the legends in this family and it’s in many ways is their story, but that once I sort of decided that Richard was actually going to be the focal point of the movie, that what I wanted to do was try and tell a story where you were following a man who wanted to find respect and self respect in the world.

Could be self-defeating in that purpose. Could be overbearing, but had a real purity of a goal that was going to lift up himself and his whole family. Ultimately have to realize that to achieve it he was going to have to get out of the way and actually realize that it was their lives and it was their agency.

The arc of the story was going to start with Richard, but really towards the end show him handing off that mantle to Venus and later to Serena. That became the architecture of it and I knew that there was the Compton section and there would be sort of the next section would be from Paul Cohen to when they separated with Paul.

Then when Rick Macci comes involved and to the decision of whether to play pros. Then from that decision to Venus’s match against Vicario. I knew those were kind of my turning points. Then just had my list of anecdotes that I thought were… Like Richard showing this tape of Cinderella. That came out of a conversation with Venus told me that that was something he would do.

I thought that was an amazing scene, but then trying to figure out, okay, well, what is the lesson that is being taught here and where does that lesson fit it into the architecture of our story? It was sort of taking moments and trying to find where they fit to tell the story that you’re building.

Geri Cole: But keep it focused on the character arc of Richard.

Zach Baylin: Yeah. Richard and kind of counterpointed with obviously with Venus, and Serena, and Oracene. I think Oracene and Venus’ sort of trajectory are more that they’re both… They’re very similar in that they’re sort of both soft spoken, but they have a lot of intention when they do speak. Finding their moments to really sort of take the mic, and take the spotlight, and to say like, “No, no, these are our lives Richard and we will make the decisions that we want to make with them.” Yeah, I think they kind of have similar trajectories.

Geri Cole: Also, I feel like just brought me to my next question really nicely, which was again, the story is obviously about Richard and sort of his arc and then also obviously about Venus and Serena and their incredible careers, but I feel like it also is sort of about Oracene and the family.

Can we talk a little bit about creating her arc? It sounds like once you got to talk with her and she had input it sort of blossomed from there.

Zach Baylin: Yeah, I mean, probably the thing that changed the most from the drafts, pre family to post family for her character. I didn’t really know who she was and I had written her differently and getting to sit down with her. The biggest things that came out of that were one, this really realization that she was not just the breadwinner at home, or the caretaker, or the mother of five daughters. That she was also a huge part of their tennis coaching career.

That like Richard, she taught herself to play tennis so that she could teach them. That making sure that that was depicted in the film. That they often talk about her being the… If was the dreamer, brains of the operation, that Oracene was the backbone and the one who actually made it happen.

Geri Cole: The engine.

Zach Baylin: Yeah, the engine.

I think for her, she was less concerned with the exterior ideas of success and the way that Richard was in some ways. That she was really thought that whether this tennis thing works out or not, that it was a model of how to raise her daughters in the way that she felt was going to put them in a position to succeed in life.

Whether it mattered on the tennis court or not, but this kind of dedication that they were learning and the collected effort that they all put into it. I think she was really adamant about that being… The real Oracene was really adamant about that being depicted in the movie. Rey did a really good job of building that out because it’s hard on the page. If you have seven people in a scene to bring them all out.

We knew who they were, but a lot of times that we’d end up being on set and we’re trying to figure out, “Okay, how do we give Isha a little more character?” That was something that we all kind of worked on together.

Then just with Oracene I mean, she told us… Rey and I then went back down to Florida and spent some time with her and Venus. She said just like, “Don’t make me chump.” I think she knows that she’s someone who is more internal and she chooses when to speak in times where Richard is just always talking, but that when she speaks, she knows what she wants to say and she’s going to bring it. That was who she showed herself to be with me.

Then Aunjanue, when Aunjanue came on, I made recordings of all my interviews with everyone and I shared those with Aunjanue. Then she would come to me and Aunjanue had great ideas of things that she wanted to add or get out. I think Aunjanue really latched onto this idea that Oracene had been an athlete herself in her youth and that was on one of the interviews. That was something that she really held onto as a way into this character.

Then we went back and I went with her and we figured out ways to work that into the script so that she could play it the way she wanted to.

Geri Cole: Wow. I feel like I’m going to squish these two questions together.

Was there anything that the family asked you not to include? I guess you don’t have to tell us obviously what that was, but was there anything where they were like, “No, no. Don’t go there.” Do you have any tips about writing real people with their input? It feels like it can be a very tricky thing.

Zach Baylin: It can be tricky. I mean, and I’m doing it now that Rey, the director of the movie is working on a Bob Marley movie and he brought me on to do some work on the script. We’ve been working with that family too and it’s delicate. Especially with people who are icons and who’s images one are still both very profitable, but they’re still defining their lives.

I think that they all are aware that these stories in movies can end up becoming the defining way that they’re seen. It’s tricky, but I give the Williams family 100% credit. They never came to us and said, “Don’t put this in the movie.”

Geri Cole: Wow.

Zach Baylin: If anything I feel like maybe earlier in the script, there were times where I think Serena feeling a bit more frustrated towards the position she was in, in her career toward Venuses. They were very clear that they were like that Venus and Serena are so supportive of each other. Serena and Venus will after their own matches will go and watch each other’s matches no matter what time the other one’s playing. They’re incredibly close.

I think that there were times in the script that Serena’s frustration towards her own ascendancy maybe felt like it was coming off as anger towards Venus. That was, if anything, they were protective of and was like, “That is not our relationship.”

Geri Cole: Like, please, don’t try and pit us against each other.

Zach Baylin: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I think that they were in the early parts of their career where they were playing against each other a lot. There was a lot of nasty coverage of how the two of them behaved in matches where they played against each other. I think they were rightly sensitive of the way that that was depicted, but I never met Richard.

Geri Cole: What? That was my next question. I was going to say, what was his response been like and did you see the 78 page plan?

Zach Baylin: We saw pictures of the plan and the prop department. I had been in the prop department for years before. I was really interested in the plan and the way the bus was depicted. I probably, in the script, really overwrote detail of what was in that bus.

No, we saw pictures of all that stuff. The plan was real. It was a real thing, but he was in Florida and I mean, part of it was COVID we just never got down there. I think he was also just like, “You know what? I’ve had my time telling my story and being out in the public eye,” and he’s not really anymore.

As much as I felt like I needed to sit down with Oracene, I felt like I knew Richard. He had done so many interviews and he had made his own documentaries. He’d done a lot of self promotion in those years, both for himself and for the family. He was always taping, always on interviews.

I had contemporaneous tapes of him. I had things that he had written in hindsight. I had lots of interviews that he’d done with Sports Illustrated and other places that I think those authors often had very suspicious view of Richard. I was able to read a lot of things that looked at Richard from different perspectives.

That was really helpful for me too especially because I didn’t want to look at him from necessarily the way we might see him now. I thought it was important to show how the world viewed him at that time because he was viewed very negatively.

From what I’ve heard, I don’t even know that he’s seen the movie. I talk to Isha all the time and she’s like, “I don’t know. He says he hasn’t seen it, but then he’ll comment on a scene.” You’re like, “Well, how do you know what happened in that scene-”

Geri Cole: He doesn’t want to admit he’s seen it.

Zach Baylin: Yeah. I hope he’s seen it. I think if he didn’t like it, we would know about it probably.

Geri Cole: Yeah. That’s actually definitely true.

Also, yeah are you in honorary Williams now? Can I write a movie where I get to be a part of a family and then become a part of that family?

Zach Baylin: I don’t know that I’m an honorary member, but I totally fell in love with all of them. Isha came on and was there every day on set and she is also a tennis encyclopedia. She was both a creative consultant, but also really helped with tennis parts of things. Yeah, no, we became really close and I spent more time with Venus and Serena.

Venus and I would say like became pretty friendly and they’re so impressive. I kept trying to get them to hit with me. That’s the one thing that never happened.

Geri Cole: You’re like, “Please.” Oh man.

I do actually want to talk a little bit about your career before this film because as you said, you started in the art department, but I read that you would sneak off to write. When did you know this is it, I got to make the jump into writing and how did that transition work?

Zach Baylin: I mean, I was trying to do it right from the beginning. I got out of college, and I moved to New York, and I had a script. I had a script that I was working on that I naively was like, “Oh, I’ll finish this script and then I’ll sell it-

Geri Cole: This is it.

Zach Baylin: This is it.

I’ve read that script recently. I was like, “It’s not bad,” but did not sell for a million dollars. I used my early jobs in New York to just try and get… I had had a really good film education, but not a necessarily a hands on production aspect. I didn’t have any connections really within the industry. I didn’t know how you get an agent or really even I didn’t know how a movie got made.

I PA’d in New York and I found that I had moral aligned with the people in the set dressing department, the art directors, and the set designers, and the props. I got into that world because I thought it was a lot of other artists. I got to work on a lot of great things in New York.

I’ve worked on, I was telling you before I worked on two seasons of this kid show, The Electric Company as a prop and had a great time, but I always wanted to write. In between jobs, I always had a script and I was writing them. A lot of times then I would write on set when I should’ve been probably doing my prop jobs.

It was a long road. I thought it was going to happen a lot or earlier. I think part of that was, I didn’t really understand how to advocate for myself. I would finish my scripts. I had one guy. I met this one writer named Johnny Rosenthal, who was a successful screenwriter who lived in the East Village.

He had a movie with a producer that I was art PAing on a different movie of the producer. A friend of mine put me in touch with Johnny and he read my script that first one and was like, “This is good. I’ll send it to my manager.”

He was the only person I met for eight years that was a writer. I sent him like five scripts and he was always like, “Oh, this is pretty good. I’ll send it to my manager.” Nothing happened. Then I don’t know, the fifth script he called me back and he was like, “My manager wants to talk to you.”

Geri Cole: Wow.

Oh, good on him for actually sending it too. [crosstalk 00:28:56]

Zach Baylin: He was great. I was so fortunate, but in retrospect I probably should’ve not just met Johnny. I should’ve tried to meet other people, but it worked out. It just took a lot longer than I ever thought I wanted it to.

Geri Cole: Oh, yeah. It’s the journey not the destination. Right. Isn’t that-

Zach Baylin: Yeah, exactly. I don’t know what your path was, but especially as a writer and being on set, it’s great. It was really informative and I worked on Todd Haynes movie and I love him and I worked with Scott Frank. People that I really admire.

It’s very hard to walk around with a script in your back pocket on set and sort of say like, “Can I write the next one?”

Geri Cole: Yeah. You don’t want to be that guy.

Zach Baylin: In some ways you kind of have to be. I mean, I didn’t really do it, but I wonder if I had been a little bit more assertive in that way.

Geri Cole: Yeah. I don’t know it’s tricky. I feel like that’s the constant question. Everyone’s like, “How? How?” It’s like there is no clear path.

Zach Baylin: Well, how did you break in?

Geri Cole: I was also an assistant for working on Sesame Street and the assistant to the executive producer, and then became the writer’s assistant, the assistant to the head writer, and I was everyone’s assistant and I was also writing.

Eventually I was just sort of like, “Aren’t I charming? Don’t you guys want to see more of me? You know I write comedy and I perform.” Then they were like, “Okay, fine, fine. Send us some of your stuff.” It was just a sort of trying to find that person who was willing to take a chance on you.

Zach Baylin: That was smart though because you were with the writers and I was on the side of it. Yeah.

Geri Cole: Yeah, but it’s a tricky thing.

Speaking of actually a question that I like to ask everyone on the podcast and especially actually because you were talking earlier about Oracene and sort of her perspective on success. I like to ask people in creative fields about success because it does feel like an imaginary place that you’re constantly trying to arrive and just always stuck at the gate.

I wonder how you define success for yourself and how that has evolved over time?

Zach Baylin: That’s a good question. I mean, it’s definitely evolved tremendously because for a long time, I just wanted to be able to call myself a working writer. That when I had sold my first TV show and honestly when I got in the WGA that was a really big moment. I was so proud to get in and to get the screeners was huge.

It was incremental. I think like just to be able to say it took me a long time to be able to tell people I’m a writer. Then really to begin working consistently and changed my family’s life in a lot of ways.

With this movie I’ve achieved things that I had not even really planned for or thought about. I really just wanted to and still do. I really just want to be able to work and to be involved with the stories that I wanted to tell and that I’m passionate about. I think that what happens is, knock on wood, and I have more opportunity now than I did ever before, but it doesn’t mean that they’re the right opportunities.

Just still trying to really say, okay, well now people will at least let me in the door and talk about something or come to me with some ideas. Trying to just stay really grounded to the stories that I love and the stories that I want to write. I think now that idea of success is what I’m trying to figure out.

Just how to have a career. It took so long to get something made that just trying to figure out, okay, how do I find longevity in this? I don’t know that you do. I mean, I don’t know that there’s any… Doesn’t seem like the kind of career where you ever feel like there’s stability under your feet.

Then it’s just going back to making sure that the work you’re doing you really care about and you actually love… You don’t always love the process. It’s a grind, but that when you have good days, that really still is meaningful. You get three good pages out and you’re like all right that was great.

Geri Cole: Yes. That’s my success. Small successes.

Zach Baylin: Yeah.

Right now I just feel very fortunate that this has been the ride and this experience of this movie and I feel really proud of this movie. I want to just keep on that trajectory and not make dumb choices.

Geri Cole: Yeah. That’s a really good point and one of the reasons why I ask because it can feel like even though sometimes you may be offered more opportunity, it’s like, but not the right opportunities. Trying to stay focused on the things that you truly are passionate about doing is hard.

Zach Baylin: Yeah, it’s really hard and I just don’t take any of it for granted. I didn’t make a dollar writing before I was 35. I’m very aware of what it is like to see other people doing something that you really want to do and to feel like you’re on the other side of the door. I am very happy to be doing this right now and just want to keep working hard at it.

Geri Cole: Also, it sounds like you might become the go-to person for Black family biopics. [crosstalk 00:34:28]

Zach Baylin: I don’t know how that happened exactly. Yeah.

Geri Cole: Which will be very interesting.

Zach Baylin: Yeah. The next one might be something different. We’ll find out.

Geri Cole: Yeah. Wow. I know we’re running out of time, but I do actually want to ask you a little bit about your process. Especially because in talking about the grind, and having to not getting that first paycheck until a certain age, and trying to continue to believe in yourself.

I guess what is your process like and how did you stay focused while you were… This is advice now for the folks who are in the grind. Is there any good advice?

Zach Baylin: My process is different every time and it’s still kind of a mess, but my biggest advice is that when I was working other jobs but writing was that I felt good if I just did any writing during the day. Even if it was 10 minutes and I took it and I took the back act of the sides of the show that I was working on and I wrote something. Then I felt like I still had a foot in it.

At the end of six months, sometimes I would take all my sides that I had from… I did three seasons of Gossip Girl as a prop and I would have the sides from all day and I’d go back and I’d look at them. I had most of the script on the back of the sides and that just felt like, okay, now I’m sure it sucked, but now there’s something that I can begin to craft.

Just for me, it was kind of always be working on something and trying to always start something new because I know a lot of friends who were also really good writers, but would hang on to one script for a really long time. At some point I think you have to finish things, but also don’t be beholden to that one story it’s going to be it. I think one, it’s good to be able to have a lot of stories in your quiver.

Then in terms of my day to day now, I mean, I really believe in outlining. I do a lot of work before I start writing in final draft, but the outlines look different every time. Sometimes if it’s a true story, I’m doing a ton of research, but I like to read actual books and not like eBooks. I have 10 books that I’m reading and I have them all dogeared.

I don’t have a good process. Then my wife helps me with research and we’ll like, “Where do we read that story about…” Then eventually compiling all those into a huge document that is both half outline, half treatment, sometimes note cards.

Then like with Richard, I try to find that character through line and then hope that that can be the thing that I’m stringing everything else off of. Then day to day, depending on where I am in a draft, I try to write five, 10 pages a day something.

I don’t stop and look at it. I just try to keep moving forward and then go back and realize it’s all terrible. Then try to fix it.

Geri Cole: Then write it again.

Zach Baylin: Yeah and again, yeah.

Geri Cole: I think that that’s fantastic advice because I feel like that’s the thing that’s really frustrating and annoying, but also good news is that you just have to write every day. Just keep writing and you’ll get better. It will get better. Just keep writing. It’s the simplest thing, but also the annoying thing.

Zach Baylin: Yeah. I mean, I read a ton of other scripts. Other people who I think are great writers and you read the scripts, but ultimately you’re reading the final draft that someone else’s… Or whatever there’s no final drafts, but a fairly finished products and you say like I love Tony Gilroy or something.

You read his scripts and you’re like, “Wow, it looks so beautiful on the page and the dialogue is so crisp and you’re like, I guess it just comes out like this out of his…” Maybe it does. I don’t know. Maybe it does for him, but it doesn’t for me.

I think it’s just a continually chipping away and not sending off. I don’t send things off until I feel like this is as good as I can get it right now and I hold my cards a long time before I let anyone see anything.

Geri Cole: Do you think that that’s a part of… And this is another thing that really resonated with me that you said because I have had a similar experience where I felt so… Just saying that I’m a writer. It took me so long to feel comfortable telling people I’m a writer, it’s what I do for a living.

A part of that, I feel like holding the cards close to the chest is maybe tied to that feeling of being like, am I good enough?

Zach Baylin: I think so. I mean, I think that I would imagine it’s a vulnerable profession and you’re really putting yourself out there. You know the whole job after that is then people telling you what doesn’t work about it and having to fix it.

It’s both having thick skin, but also having to be really earnest and saying like, “I think this is good. I really put a lot of my heart into what’s on this page. I know that I’m going to give it to you and you’re going to drop kick it.” That’s just the job and it, but at least you want to be able to go in and fight for what you put on a page, even though you know it’s going to change.

Geri Cole: Well, I think that that’s actually a great place to wrap things up is to know that you’re going to put your heart on the page and it’s going to get dropped kicked, but do it anyway.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Congratulations on this film. It was excellent. Again, I was like, it’s not going to get me and then I was damnit, it got me.

Zach Baylin: I’m glad. I’m glad it got you.

Geri Cole: Yes. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Zach Baylin: Yeah, no, thanks so much. I was so glad to do it and really nice to meet you.

Geri Cole: Nice to meet you as well.

That’s it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writer Guild of America, East and is hosted by me, Geri Cole.

This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stockboy Creative. Our associate producer and designer is Molly [Blear 00:40:44].

You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at and you can follow the Guild on all social media platforms @wgaeast. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening and write on.

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