Write On! TV Reviewer Phillip Ramati is a reporter for The Macon (Georgia) Telegraph; he also covers television for their website: www.macon.com/thetvguy. A screenwriter, Ramati was a finalist for a 2002 Disney/ABC Fellowship and later was a second-rounder at the 2006 Austin Film Festival.
Ramati speaks with Write On! about his processes, and offers advice for journalists, critics, and creative writers.
What inspired you to first start writing?
I can’t say it’s really one particular thing. I’ve always had an interest in reading and in journalism, and I just sort of gravitated into it. I got a journalism scholarship to the University of Georgia, which set me on my career path. Also, a lack of discernible skills in pretty much everything else.
How/why did you develop your The TV Guy blog?
Our newspaper (The Macon Telegraph) was trying to develop its Web site a few years ago and asked people to contribute blogs. Someone else grabbed up movies, so I took TV instead, which was good, because I get a lot of advance screeners. I’ve always had an interest in TV —my parents would say I watched way too much as a child—so it was a pretty good fit. Also, in my screenwriting, I’ve written two TV pilots and specs for a few shows, including Dexter, Numb3rs, and Smallville. The last two I was able to submit through Hollywood contacts to those shows, though they were never picked up.
What is your favorite part about writing about TV?
I enjoy trying to predict the Emmys and the Golden Globes. I enjoy being among the first to see a new series, and then getting to tell other people about it, even if the show isn’t good.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start an entertainment and/or TV-related blog?
Two things I’d advise for anyone trying to do criticism: 1) No spoilers. Let people watch a show for themselves and judge for themselves, whether or not you like it. Besides, I think it’s disrespectful to the people putting the show together. 2) It’s OK to like something or not like it, but give a reason as to why. Doesn’t matter if it’s the acting, the writing, whatever, tell the reader what you would change about the show to make it better. Don’t just say, “This show sucks, don’t waste your time with it.”
You write in multiple mediums. Which is your favorite? Which is the most challenging? Why?
Well, despite the aggravation, there’s nothing more satisfying than holding a completed script. That sense of being finally finished—good or bad. I do so much news writing that I can’t say I derive a great amount of satisfaction about seeing a story done, since I usually write a dozen stories a week. It’s more like, that’s done, let’s move on to the next one. The challenge in being a reporter is to try to explain something that is complicated—such as retired city workers’ benefits—to the general masses.
How do you balance your TV column, reporting, and screenwriting?
It’s a chore. When I do screenwriting, it’s usually on the weekends. My column I do either late at night or first thing in the morning. Everything else is done around my reporting job, however. Fortunately for me, I’m a wicked fast writer. I’m good at organizing my thoughts and then typing them out pretty quickly.
What led you to start writing screenplays?
I’ve always had a love of the movies. I remember seeing a behind-the-scenes special about the special effects for Empire Strikes Back and I wanted to be the guy who did that job. I thought it was the coolest job in the world, working with those models. (Nowadays, it’s done by CGI). Years later, I read Bill Goldman’s Adventures In The Screen Trade, in which he included the script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I remember laughing out loud in the bookstore as I read it. That was the first time it clicked for me that someone could write screenplays for a living, but I didn’t start until I took at class at UGA. Even then, I didn’t really start trying it until 2002, with my first script “1066,” which ended up being a Disney finalist.
How has being a journalist changed since you first started writing?
I’ve been doing it for 16 years. When I started, no one was using the Internet or even e-mail. Now we can’t picture our lives without it, but researching something meant digging through old files or going to the library, not going to Wikipedia. (I’m kidding—I do not use Wiki for my articles!) Newspapers adjusted to the digital age very poorly and have really yet to find the balance between print and online. But now, we’re expected to break news for the Web during the day and then expand on the story for the newspaper because by the next morning, it’s already old news.
The worst thing about the Web is that any idiot with a computer can post anything about anyone. So you spend an awful lot of time chasing down worthless rumors.
Additional advice for journalists?
Yeah, go into another field. I recommend dentistry.
Additional advice for creative writers?
Try to enjoy it. Don’t sweat trying to sell things, unless you make it your career and have nothing else paying your bills. Then you need to sweat a lot.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
How aggravating it would be. How the world of professional writing would change in the digital age. And that maybe I should have been a dentist.
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