SciFi4Me Exclusive Interview: Screenwriter Jim Martin

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Jim Martin, writer... usually.
Jim Martin, writer, renaissance man, ninja, The Cheese.

James (Jim) Martin is soft-spoken, but under that calm exterior is enough creativity for several people at the same time. Some of his work you’ve heard of, some you haven’t, and there’s more coming down the pike. SciFi4Me asked him about some of these projects, and we got to find out just how deep that geek cred goes. His answers are below in, quote, “ninja red.”

Jim Martin: Hey Willow! Thanks for this. So excited to be able to talk about my career… and specifically all of my crazy, cool and interesting projects.

SciFi4Me: Would you consider yourself a sci-fi genre writer primarily, or do you enjoy writing all types of stories?

JM: Good question. It may seem bizarre, but I actually don’t consider myself a sci-fi genre writer at all. I started with a chip on my shoulder thinking that I should write South Park or Deadwood… and that’s kind of – y’know – those are two of the best shows ever, and they’re completely different. And I didn’t want to make a choice. I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted to do. So I decided early on that I wasn’t going to pick. So I consider myself a writer. Straight up. Kind of like a laborer or a welder or something of that ilk. I don’t want to limit myself, because my skillset is about story telling… and every story can be told through my voice… Sometimes the stories are dark, sometimes comedic, other times they’re soapy and sexy, and yeah – sci-fi or fantasy stories happen to be playgrounds I enjoy playing in, but they aren’t my exclusive / primary zones.

I always think how funny it is that people want to pigeon hole themselves. It’d be like:“Hey, you’re in construction, right?” “Yeah. But I only make bridges.” “Wait – you don’t do garages, arenas, houses or anything else?” “Nope, just bridges.”

I think it used to be that way in TV and Film though. You were “the cop show guy” or the “doctor drama girl” or the “family sit-com team” – now I think you can branch out a little bit more… at least I hope so, because maybe I’m just lying to myself… hehe.

That said, however, I’ve been hugely interested in Sci-Fi, comic books, fantasy and the like for a long time. I’m a massive AD&D fan, who is currently in a campaign with friends I’ve played with for years. I’m a Star Wars kid who loved Star Trek… I even had comic book themed birthday parties growing up… so while I don’t consider myself a predominantly “sci-fi/genre” guy… I can see how some people would call me that.

Jim and his pup.
Jim and his pup.

SciFi4Me: How did you get started with Heroes? What did you like most about the experience? What did you find most frustrating? Do you have a favorite behind-the-scenes story you’d like to share? There’s a rumor that Heroes could be brought back into production. Any thoughts on that?

JM: I joined Heroes during season 1. The show I was working on (ABC’s Traveler) was basically canceled before it even aired, and I began looking for another job. I had a friend who was working on Heroes as a producer’s assistant, and he informed me that Allan Arkush (EP/Director) was looking for an assistant. I immediately jumped on that opportunity. I’d been a fan of Allan’s work since I saw Rock N Roll Highschool and Hollywood Boulevard when I was younger… and when I met him, he did not disappoint. We talked about the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Fillmore East… everything that I was listening to, basically took place at a show Allan was at. Okay – I’m rambling. So I started working for Allan during Season 1. I was on set for the filming of Company Man and the season finale, among other episodes… It was amazing. But I wanted to write. So, after Tim Kring’s assistant left to write for another show after Season 1, I moved over (with Allan’s support) to assist Tim Kring. I assisted Tim for the remainder of the series… taking some time off to write and produce the web series’ that Heroes ran (Going Postal, The Recruit, Slow Burn, Nowhere Man) as well as writing web comics and episode 13 of Season 4 entitled Let It Bleed.

I think there was a lot of frustration on the show after we premiered our season 2 episodes and the fan base had some resistance. What a lot of people don’t know is that by the time the first episode of a Season, we already had 6 episodes in the can… so those serialized story lines that people hated… they were already guaranteed to happen. But then we turned it around, I think. We were confident that our Peter story was going in a fun place, Nathan was on the brink of doing something big, and we had a girl named Caitlin trapped in a dystopian alternate future… It was going to be a hell of a season! The second half was going to be HUGE… and then the writers strike happened. If you go back and watch Heroes episodes 207-211… there are so many things happening… and it’s just kind of “wrapped up” because we had to before the writers strike…

I remember being there with DJ Doyle, Timm Keppler and Harrison Wilcox as Jeph Loeb, Jesse Alexander and Tim Kring were driving to the WGA meeting to ratify the strike, and those guys were dictating / pitching / workshopping the last couple scripts of that season and DJ, Timm, Harrison and I were doing the best we could to get all of the scripts in order before it was “pens down.”

And then Heroes stopped airing… for almost 10 months. Because the writers strike and the shut down of production and schedules… It was frustrating because I think we had good stuff, and I thought by the time we came back, people thought we were done.

I mean, y’know – for the record, we had a great Season 4… It was awesome. There were great new characters that organically worked… and go watch the last 8 episodes or so of that season. I know that Oliver Grigsby and I were fired up to make good episodes using characters we loved. Tim Kring wrote this amazing final episode that worked for what it had to be. It had to be open ended, but it also had to be final enough in case we weren’t renewed.

Claire gets up on the top of a Ferris wheel and does the same thing she did in the pilot. And she does it in front of people. It’s a beautiful conclusion, I think… Then again, maybe I’m just being a wistful romantic.

I like to think that Heroes isn’t dead. There’s always a chance for good TV to thrive in some manner, and I think that if we all stay positive, Heroes will always have a chance to come back. But I don’t know any specifics as of now.

SciFi4Me: I know you were part of the Conspiracy For Good. What was the concept behind that transmedia project? Do you feel it succeeded? Would you have done anything differently?

JM: CFG! One of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. Conspiracy for Good was ahead of its time in so many ways. At the end of the day, the most important thing we did was our charity work. Our efforts with Room to Read and Nokia provided a fully stocked library to a Zambian village outside of Lusaka, and 50 of local girls were given full scholarships to school in London. The way I describe it, it was a long-term ARG, interactive story telling experience that featured filmed content from North America, Africa and Europe with a live action run time that took place in London in July of 2010. Tim Kring conceived this project with Sweden’s THE COMPANY P. Tea 4 Two entertainment were the ARG producers and Dave Stewart’s Weapons of Mass Entertainment came aboard with talented performers, artists and… man… How much fun was that? I was in Stockholm for a month, writing, game developing, working on story and enjoying it all… then, I returned to LA and wrote hours of content that was shot throughout Africa, from Zambia up through Gibraltar, across Europe and then bringing our Hero NADIRAH X to London in July. I was in London performing, interacting with participants and planting storylines and evidence throughout the city. We ended up having a good turn out, but I feel like our marketing was lacking and since it was so far ahead of its time, not enough people know what the project is. Again, I’m kind of rambling here, but the story we were trying to tell was so large, and the good we did was huge… Okay – here, check this out for more details: http://www.conspiracyforgood.com

Jim Martin with article author Willow Polson at Titmouse Studios, photobombed by Bigfoot.
Jim Martin with article author Willow Polson at Titmouse Studios, home of Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, and photobombed by Bigfoot.

SciFi4Me: Talk a little bit about The Karada. All Your Fates, the story on Wattpad, has been a huge success. Where do you see it going from here, and is the Karada team still aiming for a television series?

JM: The Karada is an amazing world that plays in the dark sci-fi sexy drama type place…with a little bit of darkness playing in the show. I wrote the pilot and Tea 4 Two’s Tom Olsson Liljeholm and Carrie Cutforth-Young are co-creators of the world. We wanted to do something great that gave us the opportunity to play in the ARG field and give us a lot of playspace with Transmedia.

Basically what we wanted to do with The Karada is to create a truly limitless story, where the audience becomes participants by communicating directly with characters from the TV-show, helping them to overcome obstacles and asking them about parts of their world that the participants didn’t get a chance to explore by watching the TV-show. Because we have a fully thought through storyworld, we have the unique ability to keep developing the story on the fly, on demand and thereby offering a rich experience with a truly unlimited story that gets better with every interaction.

Part of that unlimited story is the All Your Fates pre-quel online novel that’s made its home (and gained an impressive number of readers) on WATTPAD. I suggest everyone go read everything there. We’ve had amazing writing from a lot of amazing writers (including Willow Polson, who had some amazing chapters, if I do say so myself.) (Aw, thanks Jim! — WP)

In the All Your Fates world, we jump through different characters’ POVs and tells different stories in different realities with such extraordinary emotional pull, it makes it hard to stop reading.

As far as the TV series goes… Yes! I still want to get the show on big time TV and I am open for development, I encourage people to find out more here: http://www.thekarada.com/

Ben Schwartz, Jed Elinoff, Jim Martin and Scott Thomas of Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja
Left to right: Ben Schwartz, Jed Elinoff, Jim Martin and Scott Thomas of Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja

SciFi4Me: Your current series, Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, just got renewed. You have a lot of recognizable talent behind the microphone on that show. Do you ever get to be a part of the recording sessions, and if so, who has been your favorite voice talent to work with? Have you had an opportunity to work with Jhonen Vasquez?

JM: I first want to say how much I enjoy and love this show. I’ve been lucky in many aspects of my career, but meeting Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas is by far one of the best things to ever happen. Jed and Scott are super amazing writers with a voice like no one I’ve ever met. They’ve supported and promoted my writing since we first met, and I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now without them.

Here’s a cool thing… one time I went to a record session where we had Ben Schwartz as Randy Cunningham, Andrew Caldwell as Howard Weinerman, Kevin Michael Richardson as Willem Viceroy III, John DiMaggio as Hannibal McFist… all reading from a script that I wrote… and those are just the top four regulars!

It was THE CHEESE! And then we also have had Tim Curry, Megan Mullally, John Oliver… I mean – if I write everyone down here I’ll be here all day. Let’s just say that we have the coolest voice actors in the world and our guest stars are so honkin’ Bruce, they make me feel like a shoob.

I mean – let’s just say that I’ve met Bender from Futurama, and everyone else out there can bite my shiny metal @$$.

RE: Jhonen Vasquez – I’ve never met Jhonen in person, sadly, but I have loved Invader Zim for years. The fact that he designed our main characters is amazing. He doesn’t work on the show in the day to day or anything, he just designed some of the characters… but I think that’s kind of awesome, don’t you?

SciFi4Me: What other projects have you worked on? What other projects are you working on besides The Karada and Randy Cunningham?

JM: I recently co-produced and wrote for an independent TV pilot for The Saint. Jesse Alexander wrote the pilot. Simon West directed it. MPCA produced the production. The pilot stars Adam Rayner, Eliza Dushku, Thomas Kretschmann, Enrique Murciano, Greg Grunberg, James Remar, Sammi Hanratty and… well how could it be The Saint without Sir Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy? We are currently out to networks and we’re hoping to be picked up sometime this summer!

I’m also writing a few different movies. Nothing I can speak about just yet, but I guarantee you that I’ll let you know as soon as things become official and we have start dates on the productions.

Oh! And finally, I have a new silly podcast that I do with my friends here: http://badlistening.libsyn.com (Note – this is a podcast about dumb friends who don’t listen to each other… we barely talk about anything worth listening to.)

SciFi4Me: If you could create your perfect dream job, what would it be?

JM: Rock N Roll poet laureate, writer, director of anything and everything I want to do. I want to collaborate with so many people out there and work on so many awesome things, and the truth is that the only thing holding it back is a lack of time. Wait – can we change this question? I want more time in the day. I want more weeks in the year and more weekends. I want to be a collective collaborator with all of the genius minds that I’ve met so far, and all the creative moguls I’ve yet to meet.

Is that a job? Something like that.

Failing that, I would like to be Trey Parker… or Joss Whedon.

SciFi4Me: Most of your work is primarily in television. What shows do you like the best, other than your own, and why? What movies do you like the best, and why?

Oh, beHAVE!
Oh, beHAVE!

JM: I love some TV! Let’s talk old school TV. Cheers, MAS*H, All In The Family, Golden Girls, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, News Radio… that was my thing growing up. Now it’s more of the Archer, South Park, Mad Men, Downton Abbey type thing… Chopped on the Food Network is amazing, too. I dig cooking shows and Anthony Bourdain… I loved Deadwood and Carnivale and I adored some of Rescue Me… But I think if I had to say favorites… other than Archer and South Park, I’d say The Mighty Boosh? Snuff Box? I’d say if it’s British and it’s smart, I love it. I love Monty Python, I love Ricky Gervais… hell, can’t even think about it all.

As far as movies go, I would say: “Dirty Work, starring Norm MacDonald… and The Godfather… and Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead… and I like Team America: World Police. Oh, and Red State. I like Old School too, and First Blood. Have you seen Bonnie and Clyde and The Conversation? Those are two other movies I dig. Man.” Then I’ll think and say, “The Departed and The Last Waltz are maybe my two favorite Scorsese movies.”

Then I’ll say: “OH! Raging Bull and Casino!”

Eventually I’ll say, “don’t forget how good Rio Bravo is. And On the Waterfront… and A Streetcar Named Desire.”

But I like Nolan’s The Dark Knight too… And Inception.

This question is unfair. I refuse to answer it.

SciFi4Me: Many people in the business have a favorite cause or charity. Do you have one that you’d like to talk about?

JM: I really like the Make A Wish foundation and Red Cross. I try to donate to those as much as I can (I’m still not out of student loan debt, but I do my best). Make A Wish is special because it’s for kids. I think a lot can be said about a society by how they care for their children. And whenever I see a disadvantaged or sick kid smile, I get all choked up.

And the Red Cross thing is just like – how could I not? When tragedy strikes, they’re always there and just… that’s good for society and for the world.

SciFi4Me: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

JM: Celebrating the ten-year anniversary of this email! (Just kidding – Mitch Hedberg joke, for you there) Hopefully I’ll still be employed. Hopefully the IMDB page will have more stuff on it. Other than that I try not to think about “ten years from now” too much…

I just have to keep my head down and keep working. I think that greatness is never recognized by the one achieving it while it’s happening, it’s only in retrospect… so maybe in ten years I’ll look back and say “wow, ten years ago I was killing it!”

Who knows?!

I am also working on a record (I’m doing some words and some songwriting) with Erik Henrikkson of LUCKY DRAG. You should tell everyone to like Lucky Drag on Facebook and check out tunes here: http://luckydrag.bandcamp.com

SciFi4Me: I think you just did, Jim. Thanks so much!

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