Spec Spotlight: Adam Rose and Scott Shapiro Strike a Deal for “Pissed” with Warner Brothers
Considering they just sold a pilot script for a half-hour comedy about a man who enters a lucrative criminal enterprise, it’s fitting that Adam Rose and Scott Shapiro think big.
“By season five, we envision a huge, beautiful billboard over Sunset Boulevard that’s just [series protagonist] Stern kicked back in his chair, joint in his mouth, lighting it with a hundred-dollar bill — and two massive tanks of urine behind him, with the tagline reading ‘liquid gold.’”
That’s Shapiro talking, and, yes, you read correctly; Pissed, the pilot that he and Rose sold to Warner Bros., tells the story of Gary Stern, an angry ne’er-do-well who becomes a clean urine dealer.
If black-market pee seems like unlikely subject matter for a TV series, strange times beget strange stories. After all, Rose and Shapiro say the anger management element of the script reflects their feelings since the 2016 election.
“Adam and I were feeling that anger a lot while we were writing,” Shapiro said.
“We’re both worried about what’s going on in this world. I think that that comes across the page. People can relate to the anger, because it feels like everyone is going through that right now.”
Although Pissed marks their first major sale, the duo have been writing together for years. Online, they created Fake News Network, an outlet that presents conspiracy theories as facts.
In satirical videos, Rose plays ultra-conservative broadcaster Adam Rosé, a mirror-image version of himself. If you watch the videos, Rose’s face might look familiar; he’s been acting in movies and TV shows since he was a child, notching recurring roles on Aliens in America, Santa Clarita Diet, Supernatural and Veronica Mars.
Shapiro has been in the business for years too, though his path was less direct than his writing partner’s. He dropped out of law school (which, he said, his parents were “thrilled” to learn) and co-wrote, directed and acted in a feature film.
“It will never see the light of day,” he said.
He then worked “all the worst jobs in the industry,” before becoming an extra on Carnivàle.
“We were lined up in the beating sun. They gave us caked-in-mud overalls and they told us to close our mouths and cover our eyes,” Shapiro said.
“They sprayed us down with all this icky stuff. I was like, ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take.’” On Sundays, Shapiro played basketball with [writer-producer] Jeffrey Lieber.
“He was like, ‘so what are you doing with yourself right now?’ I was like, ‘I’m a rainy day short of suicide here.’ He was like, ‘why don’t you come work for me instead?’ My response was, basically, ‘how much do I have to pay you to do that?’”
Shapiro earned his first TV-writing credit on Lieber’s show, Miami Medical. He then worked on Necessary Roughness; again, with Leiber. It was on that series he met Rose, who he had cast for a guest shot.
Before he met Shapiro, Rose wrote and directed Queen, a short film about the drag world that did well on the festival circuit.
Initially, Rose and Shapiro envisioned Pissed as another web project.
“We thought this was going to be a web series that I was going to star in,” Rose said.
They created a half-hour pilot using webisodes and sent it to a producer friend, who sent it to Warner Bros.
“They loved it, and before we knew it, we were signing an if/come deal. We were super, super lucky in this case. We didn’t even pitch to Warner.”
If/come deals base remuneration on future steps. Now, the writers are working with Warner Bros. to develop a pitch for networks. If a network buys the series, Warner Bros. will produce the show and the writing team gets their first payout.
Piss for inspiration
The idea to write about clean urine came from two sources: Rose’s friend peddled pee and Shapiro encountered memorable news coverage.
“I found this article about this guy named Kenneth Curtis,” Shapiro said.
“[He] was living in South Carolina — true story — and was producing 15,000 samples of his own urine a year and selling them at 69 bucks a pop. He made himself a millionaire off his own pee.”
Eventually, the S.W.A.T. team intervened.
“His business had grown so big that [they] broke into his place and they found jugs of urine all over his apartment,” Rose said.
“They also found a storage unit that had an industrial freezer with 500 gallons of pee.”
Beyond the potential for humor in the show’s premise, the writers see opportunities to explore contemporary society.
“Right now, we’re living so much in the gig economy, where people are trying to figure out any way to make money,” Shapiro said.
“It just felt like there were a lot of elements that we really wanted to put our spin on.”
Discussing the show’s concept led to discovering a personality for the main character, according to Rose.
“I was just sort of thinking about potential titles,” he said.
“And then I thought, ‘hey, what if he’s got an anger problem and we call it Pissed?’ It was really silly and stupid but that was where Gary Stern came from. It was just a play on words and we realized that we could go deep into the feeling that’s going around the country.”
Acquiring the gold
The writers decided to make Gary a pot-smoker, which means he can’t generate his own clean urine and must acquire it from others. That concept bounces effectively off another quality the writers added to their protagonist: severe introversion.
As Shapiro noted, “most businesspeople have Type A personalities and that’s how they bring people to the table … This guy really doesn’t want to deal with anyone but he has to deal with many different people from all walks of life.”
Rose and Shapiro say the final element they added to Gary emerged during their fourth pass on the script, following notes from managers and other trusted readers.
“We knew we were missing the big character moment for Gary to be like, ‘this is who I am,’” Shapiro said.
“We figured out this speech where he’s at an AA meeting, trying to get clean pee from someone there. He’s pretending to be part of AA and he’s up there talking about himself in terms of being like the Incredible Hulk, and how no one loves the Hulk. We got to the gooey center of who Stern is and how he feels and what drives him crazy.”
But there are limits to how much of that center comes out, according to Rose.
“Because he’s lying about being a sober person, we were able to have our main character talk about what’s going on inside of him without actually talking about what’s going on inside of him,” he said.
Rose and Shapiro have a streamlined writing process; they build characters first, then brainstorm scene ideas before organizing an outline. First-draft work is divided equally before what they call their “smush” process, in which separately-written scenes are merged. Throughout revisions, they work in the same space, tossing improvements back and forth until they achieve a final draft.
For emerging writers, Shapiro says it’s important to trust your instincts.
“Write what you love because it’s going to show in your work,” he said.
“When I’m writing and I’m really into it, I’m literally being drawn back to my computer because I have to get this thing down before it slips away.”
Rose, who constantly generates web content in order to keep himself visible, said success is the result of a strong hustle.
“You can have the best script in the world, but if you don’t know who to send it to or if you don’t have relationships, then it’s hard to get it out there,” he said.
The more relentless emerging writers are in their pursuit of getting their work in front of others, the better, Rose added.
“There’s a ton of people out there waiting for someone to come to them. You’ve got to push yourself in front of people’s faces for them to know who you are.”
Writer / Filmmaker / Teacher
Peter Hanson is a Los Angeles-based writer, filmmaker and teacher. He directed the screenwriting documentary Tales from the Script, and he teaches at Pepperdine University and UCLA Extension. He provides script consulting at www.GrandRiverFilms.com.