by Michael Glenn
HWAS is pleased to feature our first writer interview. In today’s article PRISON BREAK Writers’ Assistant Michael Glenn interviews Story Editor Christian Trokey.
MICHAEL GLENN: What made you decide to pursue a writing career in television, as opposed to other mediums?
CHRISTIAN TROKEY: I actually fell into television. I grew up not watching a whole lot of it. After moving out to L.A. and working a series of bum gigs on the agency/management side, I got the opportunity to move over to television when writer David Hollander hired me to assist him on his series THE GUARDIAN. After seeing how great of a medium television can be, where a writer can really dig deep into a character, darken them up a little bit and knock em’ around, I knew this was where I wanted to be.
MICHAEL GLENN: After you were staffed on PRISON BREAK, what was your first day like in the room and also your feelings on getting your first script?
CHRISTIAN TROKEY: I had already spent a year working in the writer’s room – as a writer’s assistant on the series, so my first day (actually my first couple weeks) were just about trying to get comfortable with vocalizing my opinions and ideas. There’s definitely a transition going from someone who’s opinion isn’t necessarily asked for, to suddenly having to give it all the time. As far as my first script, I got the opportunity to write with my good friend, and very talented writer Nick Santora, who in addition to working on Prison Break, also writes novels, movies, and creates reality television series in his sleep. The guy is CRAZY GOOD and very prolific. I knew Nick would have my back – and as we proceeded into the outline and eventually writing of the script, he offered suggestions, and gave great notes and guidance that made the process a lot easier.
MICHAEL GLENN: After you have had the opportunity to collaborate with a producer on your first script, how does that compare with your experience of independently writing a script?
CHRISTIAN TROKEY: All of our scripts, outlines, and just the very breaking of the stories was done as a group – so you always felt like your material was part of a collective. Showrunner Matt Olmstead and the other producers just wanted to tell the best story that we could. Sometimes you’d put a little something extra into one of your scripts that wasn’t in an outline -- and it would get struck down. Other times, people would say they liked it and it would stay. As far as comparing it to writing a script independently… working with such a talented group of writers who gave great notes, and added great ideas, meant that you weren’t alone in the writing of your scripts. Everyone was looking out for everyone else because at the end of the day, we all wanted the show to succeed so we could keep working.
MICHAEL GLENN: Given the short amount of time to write an episode, how did you prepare yourself to finish a script with such a tight deadline?
CHRISTIAN TROKEY: By telling my wife not to look for me until the script was done… there were a lot of late nights, working until 3. And of course weekends don’t exist when you’re on deadline. Oh, and lots of caffeine and Mastodon/Slayer on my iPod.
MICHAEL GLENN: After you were staffed, how did you mentally prepare yourself to be in the writers room all day and dealing with the pressure of having to pitch ideas? Did it come easy for you?
CHRISTIAN TROKEY: I prepared myself by spending every night brainstorming ideas for the next day. I found I tended to come up with better stuff when I had time to really think something through, instead of just pitching a half-thought concept. That said, there were plenty of times when you’re in the room, and you’re just talking about an episode for the first time, and you’re just saying whatever’s coming to you at that very moment. I pitched stuff I thought was really good and it got rejected – and other times when I pitched half-conceived notions that ended up on the screen. You just never know. Matt Olmstead and the other producers were very open to hearing any idea – no matter how hair brained it might be… cause you just never knew what might take on a life of it’s own after everyone started batting it around.
MICHAEL GLENN: What kind of advice, if any, was given to you by any of the producers on the show once you became a part of the writing staff?
CHRISTIAN TROKEY: I think some of the best advice I got from showrunner Matt Olmstead was not trying to write things ‘too safe’ – but instead, going completely nuts with a script… to the point of being audacious, knowing that we could always dial back on something. On one of my first scripts I played it too safe. I was afraid I’d go too far, and instead discovered, I hadn’t gone far enough. Matt’s an extremely talented, and very professional guy, who’s been running shows for a long time and wants everyone to succeed. His advice has really stuck with me, and has definitely shaped the way I break story now and construct scenes.