Thursday, August 6, 2009

3Questions: Ben Watkins - Writer for Burn Notice

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Ben Watkins, a writer on Burn Notice, cable's #1 show. Be sure to tune it to the Burn Notice Summer Finale tonight at 9PM on USA.

In addition to Ben Watkins the writer, there is also Benjamin Watkins (actor) and Benjie Watkins (director). He refers to himself as a Hollywood Hybrid. He used to be a regular on The Young and The Restless (Dr. Wesley Carter), and wrote, co-directed and starred in the award winning short film Quest to Ref.

HBAD: How did you get your start?

BW: Well, there's a difference between getting your start and getting your "break." I got my start when I did a play in college. I'd always been interested in acting, but had no intention of pursuing it as a career. But when I did that play, I fell in love. I knew what I was going to do (write and act) and there was never any doubt in my mind after that.

As an actor, I got my break when I was doing theater in Northern California. A director, who became one of my mentors, had connections in New York. He called a friend who turned out to be the Casting Director of "One Life to Live." She said if I was ever in New York, she'd be happy to have me in for a general audition. I thought that meant they might want me on their show. I didn't know a general audition is just a low level meet and greet. My wife was thinking the same thing, so I bought a ticket to New York the next day (sometimes ignorance is your friend).

I got to New York; it was snowing; I had no winter clothes. The Casting Director thought I was crazy to come out to New York for a "general." But after my audition, she turned off the camera and told me to come to her office. Two hours later, I had an agent and a part on One Life to Live. The part turned out to be short lived, but that day launched the "Hollywood" portion of my career.

As a writer, I got my start and my break when I wrote the short film Quest to Ref. Ironically, I made the film to showcase myself as an actor, but it turned into a festival hit, and got the attention of a lot of industry folks. I wrote a feature length version that was eventually optioned by Universal Studios. Then, I wrote a pilot. It didn't sell, but the producer became one of my biggest boosters. He recommended me to an exec at Fox, who sent my stuff to Matt Nix, right around the time Burn Notice was gearing up for its first season. Matt liked my pilot a lot, and hired me onto the show. We're now wrapping up production on our third season.

HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?

BW: This business is built on one ridiculous challenge after another. In my opinion, there's only one condition that is fatal - losing faith in yourself. I'm not talking about losing confidence. That can come and go. I'm talking about finding yourself in a state of mind where you don't think you're capable of making it. We've all been close to that place. Some of us have made repeat trips there. But the people who settle down there are the ones who never make it.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to become a writer?

BW: BELIEVE. I mean, you have to commit yourself. Do your homework and learn about the business. Then do the business. Don't wait for people to give you anything. But beyond all preparation, knowledge and experience, you must believe you are going to make it. You have to be the person who expects to make it. When disastrous, mind numbing, soul crushing events occur in my life and career, I try to take a step back and remind myself it's just more material for when I do the talk show circuit.

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