John Shiban recently granted us at BuddyTV the opportunity to speak with him about Supernatural
, the popular sci-fi drama on The CW. Supernatural follows brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they travel America in their 1967 Chevy Impala, encountering all sorts of Supernatural disturbances and foes along the way. John Shiban started out as a Staff Writer on X-Files
and has been in the TV business for almost a decade. He is now a writer and executive producer on Supernatural
airs on Thursdays at 9PM ET/PT.
You landed a job on X-Files early in your career. How did you break into the TV business?
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I went to film school at AFI, grad school, and intended to be a feature writer, to be honest. I went through the school writing program and met a bunch of people which is, ultimately, very important. And me and my buddies were all trying to get jobs after school in writing and a couple of years down the road I had written a few spec features that nobody bought, but a friend of mine named Frank Spotnitz got a job as a staff writer on X-Files and met Chris Carter etcetera, and got on there, and recommended that Chris read my stuff. And one day I was working on computers to make a living and writing at night and I got this call from Chris' office saying that he read a script of mine and wanted to meet me. So I drove down and met him, terrified of course, and the next day FOX called and offered me a staff job and I was there for seven years. It was an overnight success that took years.
How long into being a writer on X-Files did you become an executive producer?
The way it goes is you bump to story editor and then I went up to co-producer then producer, that was after my second year I became a producer, and then the last two years of the show I was an executive producer.
What do you prefer, writing or producing? Or does it go hand in hand these days?
I'm actually one of these writers that enjoys writing. But the great thing about television is the writer/producers are really the bosses, so you kind of have an opportunity, where in features, the director has the final say in a lot of ways. In TV, it's the writers, so that's great. I love being a producer because you actually spend a lot of time trying to get the vision that you had in your head and working with the creative people on the set. So it's very rewarding. But I do like to write, to sit down and be alone with the computer.
Do you credit Chris Carter and X-Files with helping your development, or do you kind of evolve at your own pace when you get into the business?
You know, I've got to say, X-Files
was really my film school and one great thing about Chris, and I've tried to follow his example, he was very open to the young writers getting involved in all aspects of making an episode. He considered it collaborative and that he wanted everyone's best work, and if you were interested in going to the editing room, for example, and hanging out and working on your episode after it was shot, he was open to that. So that's how I learned to cut a show, that's how I learned to mix a show, and sound editing and all that stuff just by being around it and being in that environment. So I give him a lot of credit for that and I try to do that with young writers as they come aboard on our show and say, listen, get involved, watch this cut and tell me what you think and that kind of stuff. And that's where you really learn, it makes the writing better. I can't say enough about the editing room because, as they say, the movie is made three times: you write it once and then the director and the actors and the art director and all those creative people make it again on the set, in the real world. And then all that footage goes into the editing room and you make it all over again and you have to tell a story with what you've got and you have to figure out what you don't need anymore from the script, but it all can serve your writing if you're open to it in that way.
You've done almost exclusively Sci-Fi work. Were you a big fan growing up? What inspired you?
Yeah, I'll admit, yes, I was a geek in school and I ran the Newberry Park High School Science Fiction Club and I ran the Astronomy Club. I was a total fanboy, and originally I was very much into science fiction and, particularly, I wanted to actually write and be like Ray Bradbury or Larry Niven or one of those guys, and it wasn't until I went to college and sort of fell in love with the movies that I thought, "Hey, I want to write screenplays instead." But, yeah, definitely, I'm from the genre.
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This interview is the fifth in a series of BuddyTV interviews with the creators, writers, and producers behind many of TV's hit shows. Thus far, we've featured an interview with Mark Schwahn (creator of One Tree Hill) an interview with Hank Steinberg (creator of The Nine), an interview with David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (the creators of The Class), and an interview with David S. Rosenthal (new Head Writer/Executive Producer of Gilmore Girls).