If you’re a fan of all things zombie, there is no doubt that you have seen the creative skills of Karl Schaefer, co-creator of both Z Nation which aired on the SyFy Channel from 2014 until late 2018 and Black Summer which premiered on Netflix in April 2019.
Schaefer sold his first script to Disney and started writing TV shows full time 30 years ago. As a talented filmmaker, Schaefer has created shows including Eerie, Indiana and Strange Luck and has written and produced episodes for shows including Ghost Whisperer, Monk, The Dead Zone and more.
I was fortunate to be able to catch up with Karl recently and got some great insight from him on writing and working in the film industry. When asked for some tips on writing for movies, he shared this,
“Write movies and TV you want to see, don’t try to guess what will sell. But try to concentrate on the ideas that are most unique to you, but still have some commercial viability. Just make it great and you’ll find a market for it.”
Karl also took some time for a quick interview to share a little of his life with Writing Mind as well as the many fans who enjoy his work worldwide.
When did you discover your love for the Arts?
I was always the audio/visual guy in school. I could draw and liked to write stories. My first public writing was as Editor of the High School Paper. We did almost all comedy. Just made stuff up. I got my first camera from my dad when I was about 10. Then had my own darkroom and got a job as a school photographer. I got a chance to go to USC film school. From that time on I’ve been a filmmaker in one way or another pretty much every day since.
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
Cashing the check. I like thinking up the ideas and really enjoy the writer’s room. But actually writing? Ugh that’s hard.
How long have you worked in the entertainment industry?
Since 1985. 34 years?
How did you become successful in your career?
Like everybody, a combination of luck and preparation. You need to be ready and present for when the luck comes around. You can’t get lucky if you aren’t out in the arena you want to succeed in. If you want to make films – take every film job you can find, work on your skills and learn until that opportunity presents itself. You can also increase your opportunities to get lucky if you have a plan. In my case, I sold my first script by direct mail. I sent a cover letter and one sheet to 100 producers advertising my first script, with a return postcard that said, “YES rush me your screenplay” Out of 100 letters I got 25 of the post cards back because people thought it was funny. My plan created 25 opportunities for me to get lucky, and I did — I sold the script without an agent to Disney, and that’s how I got my start.
Early in your career you were a cinematographer, did you find transitioning to a screenwriter and producer an easy feat?
I always considered myself a FILMMAKER and I’m happy to be doing whatever it takes to get my ideas into somebody else’s head. It would probably be harder to go from being a writer to a cinematographer.
If you had to choose only one moment in your career, what would you say is the proudest career moment you have had?
When my wife Racelle won the writer’s guild award.
Tell us about your television show “Black Summer” that debuted on Netflix this year. Some fans say that the show is a spinoff of Z Nation while others argue that it’s a standalone show. Since you co-created the show, can you help stop the chatter by telling us once and for all, stand alone, or spinoff?
It’s a standalone spinoff. Same Apocalypse, different story, new characters. We might have some Z Nation characters cross over at some point.
You work with an incredible team of talented writers. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of working with a team rather than solely on your own?
Just balancing all the different personalities, finding what people do best, learning how to get the most out of them. The hardest part is really listening carefully, so you don’t miss that great idea everybody is talking over.
On the other end of the spectrum, what do you consider to be the biggest asset of creating together with a talented team?
I like the hive mind that comes up with ideas that no single individual would come up with but get them all together in a room and something magic happens.
What upcoming projects do you have coming up that we should lookout for?
Hoping to be starting season two of Black Summer real soon.
If you have not already watched Black Summer on Netflix, no time is better than now!
Black Summer Trailer for Netflix
Find Karl Schaefer online at: