Friday, July 16, 2010


The creative process of promoting a show is an entirely different animal than the creative process of making the show.  One is based on a need to engagingly communicate story, the other on the need to entice and stimulate an audience's desire for that story.  

I am fascinated by both processes.  

My background is in mass media and advertising.  As an undergraduate at Rutgers, I had my sites set on being a copywriter and a marketing creative.  My senior project was a 50 page thesis on Frequency vs. Reach - The Most Effective Use of Advertising Dollars.  Even though my career went in a different direction, I am still very plugged into the phenomenon of audience and fan awareness.  It's one of the reasons I blog; and the only reason I use Twitter and Facebook.

I'm not sure how other showrunners react when they see trailers for their new seasons.  But my reaction is always mixed.  It's the thrill of seeing those first on-air glimpses of the show, the excitement of the cool song, the sexy, slick presentation.  It gets my heart racing.  Then there's the part of me that sees the first six episodes manipulated into a marketing tool, where narrative arcs and revelatory moments get dispensed like Raisinettes.  It gets my heart sinking.  I fear that the impact, surprise and relevance of the season will be compromised.  I worry, a lot.  It's what a parent does when they think their three-year old is in potential danger.

But when I put on my marketing hat (which is about twenty years old and ill-fitting), I need a completely different point-of-view and a whole different set of worries.  If I'm spending millions and millions of dollars to promote a show, what is the most effective use of those advertising dollars?  You have to excite and entice existing fans, as well as intrigue and draw in new viewers.  To do that you must tap into story arcs, character relationships and in the case of this show, kick-ass action.  You have to reveal enough information to satisfy a very hungry audience.  They want to know what's gonna happen without really knowing what's gonna happen.  So how do you do milk that cow without ripping its teats off?  

It's a very delicate sucking. 

I'm sure other writer/producers reading this may ultimately utter the phrase, It doesn't matter what I think, marketing is a suit job.  Alas, that is true.  Many networks outsource the promotion of a show so the writers and producers are completely in the dark.  They see the promos when the audience does.  Thankfully, that is not the case with FX.  The marketing and promotions are all done in-house.  So I am lucky enough to be kept in the loop.  I see the print and on-air promotions before they are released.  Doesn't mean I can change them, but at least I'm not blindsided.  Truth is, I am in awe of the job Stephanie Gibbons and her team does at FX.  I make it a point to publicly acknowledge her enormous contribution to the success of this show.  Last month we did a seminar together on this very subject -- the relationship between marketing and the showrunner.  We discussed in detail the challenges of all those things I worry about juxtaposed against all the things she worries about.  It was an eye-opening hour. 

But let's look at the target, Kurt, the audience member.  When I watch a TV or a movie teaser, what entices me?  What draws me to tune in or spend ten bucks?  I know from experience that when I watch a movie trailer I'm pretty much seeing ALL the best moments from the film.  In fact, most movies only get greenlit when someone can "see the trailer".  And one could make the argument that studio movies have simply become extended trailers.  It must work, because they've been promoting movies the same way as far back as I can remember.  And I confess, I'm guilty of anxiously waiting to see those trailer moments when I sit in my Arclight seat.  

But what of television?  Do I really want ALL the best moments revealed to me?  I say no, but I'm not sure if that's the truth or just my job knowledge seeping in.  My relationship with a television show is much deeper than my relationship with a film.  When I buy a movie ticket I'm making a two hour investment, when I watch a serialized show, I'm making a 13-22 week commitment (coincidentally, the length of most of my relationships before I married Katey).  I'm investing in the world, the characters and the story.  Yes, I want to be teased and aroused, but I don't want to cum.  Or do I?  I mean, who wants to wait a week to get off.  Who the fuck am I, Sting? 

It's a chicken-egg conundrum.  Not unlike sex, it will continue to confuse and frustrate me.  Ultimately, as with most things in my life, it comes down to trust.  If I do my job well, share my truth as best as I can, and do the next right thing in front of me -- I have to trust that I will be heard and that others, who know more than me, will do their jobs as well.  

FYI: Trust is the ultimate challenge for big personalities with control issues.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I wrote this blog some sixteen months ago.  In light of her continuous spiral downward, I thought I'd post it again.  To no end, I'm sure.  Maybe it's just to relieve my guilt for not being more proactive in my own recovery.  Mostly it's my innate sense that very soon, Lindsay Lohan will be dead.  And that makes me sad.

Dear Lindsay,

I do not know you.  I could never imagine what it's like being in your shoes.  Your childhood, your career, your relationships, your alleged dysfunction -- I do not know the truth.  All I have is the information reported to me by the media.  The bulk of that media are despicable whores who prey on the indiscretions and weaknesses of celebrity vulnerability.  If I could slice their fucking heads off and not be incarcerated, I'd be sharpening the blade right now.  I have immense compassion for your plight.  The scrutiny, the unrelenting exposé that has become your life is inconceivable.  The readers of those rags have no idea who you are and the depth of your struggle.  They soak up the hype, the sound bites and the titillating j-pegs like fat junkie cows.  As Louis C.K. says in one of his routines -- I have to stop doing everything because I need my whole fucking body to hate them.  

Slicing through the media fiction, I try to find the truth behind the noise.  This is what I see -- a young woman who has perhaps lost sight of her gift and it's purpose.  You are a very talented girl.  As a child, you revealed a skill that few achieve at any age.  It's no wonder that all those around you exploited that opportunity.  You shined, you were/are a star.  I'm not sure what happened.  Maybe you never got an opportunity to be a child.  The Hollywood landscape is littered with ex-child stars who have crashed and burned.  I know that's why Katey and I have a very firm rule: None of our kids can work professionally until AFTER they finish college.  Children need the real world to create real perspective.  You need life to develop life skills.

If you are reading this, perhaps this is where you'll stop, because now I speak to your part in all of this.  The truth is, it doesn't matter what happened in the past.  Today, you are an adult.  With that comes the responsibility of not only your personal life but of your career as well.  Talent is a rare commodity.  We are paid a lot of money to share that gift.  Sometimes we lose perspective, I know I do.  I become covetous of my gift, it spins me inward and I feel like everyone is trying to rip it out of my hands.  I grow angry and discontent.  I want them to just leave me the fuck alone.  That usually means I need sleep and to share the noise in my head with like-minded folks.  Ultimately, when my head clears, I am brought to a place of gratitude.  I think it was Warren Beatty who said that success is when you get paid lots of money for something you would gladly do for free.  That's how I feel.  I'm guessing, there is a part of you that feels the same way.  That in the moment, when you are connected in a scene with another actor, there is an indescribable joy that happens.  It's called being an artist and with it comes responsibility. 

It may not feel like it now, but the jail time you are about to serve is a blessing.  It's concrete proof that you are a member of a real community, of something bigger than the insular fucked-up Hollywood bubble you've been living in.  You have a chance to use this time for reflection and growth.  When I see that you or members of your "team" are selling TV rights to your pre and post jail time, I fear that you have lost sight of the opportunity that lies before you.  

If you do indeed have a compulsive relationship with drugs and alcohol, this is time to address it.  This is the time to look at the potential of the wonderful life that lies ahead.  There is only one thing I know for sure.  I promise you that this is the truth -- if you stay on the path you are now, if you don't experience some kind of psychic shift, if you don't dig deep and tap into some humility, you will die.  Very soon.  That may sound dramatic and like a bad PSA, but sadly, it's the truth, darling.  You will be dead before you turn 30.  And it will be ugly and sordid and it will line the pockets of the sycophants that plague you.

I look at Robert Downey, whom many thought would never pull himself out of the bottomless crack he fell into.  His incarceration became the event that allowed him to find his humility.  Like you, his talent was immense and when he showed up to play, clean, sober, grateful, he was embraced and gladly given another chance.  His star has been on an upward trajectory ever since.  

I realize this post has turned into a bit of lecture and I apologize for that.  I'm sure I'll get bitch-slapped by the blogosphere for my arrogance.  But Lindsay, just know that I speak from experience.  I'm very candid about my own sobriety.  Not using drugs and alcohol a day at a time is the only fucking perfect thing I've done in the last 18 years.  Every good thing in my life -- let me say that again -- every good thing in my life -- is a result of working a program of recovery. 

I wish you well.  I wish you life.


Kurt Sutter

Monday, July 12, 2010


I enjoy blogging.  

It was an experiment I began in October of 2007 when FX picked up my show.  If I had a gripe, a revelation, some info about the show, I shared it with my seven readers.  I've been keeping current with SutterInk blog for almost three years.  Since then, my readers grew in numbers and so did the scope of my subject matter.  In that time, I've never apologized or rarely even questioned the content of my posts.  

Until recently.  

Since September of 2009, I've found that I've had to qualify, defend, explain and even edit many of my entries.  As I stated in my last post, I feel like perhaps my outspokenness is biting back.  So what the fuck happened?

A few things.  

Sons of Anarchy became a hit.  The show grew in notoriety and therefore everyone associated with it became more newsworthy.  And with the popularity of Lost's, team Darlton, the role of the showrunner moved out front.  Writers were becoming celebrities.  I admit, I embraced that love.  Suddenly, the attention I so desperately craved was at my fingertips -- literally.

Truth is, the bulk of my blogging is about my process as an artist and intel about the show.  The angry rants, although they get more attention, are not the core of my online sharing.  When I look at my recent posts, the ones I've had to qualify (Zito, the Emmy's, how the rags are spinning me), all of them were perfect examples of how I blog.  Pretty much an unedited, instantaneous, stream of consciousness.  This is my experience, this is my truth, this is how I feel.  So if these posts were no different than the others, why did they bite me in the ass?  Why did I double back and question their validity?  In other words, why did they make me feel so bad? 

What I've realized over the past few days of obsessive reflection is this -- I'm not on the outside looking in.  I'm not a professional blogger, journalist or critic observing the process from an objective distance.
I'm inside it, I'm part of it, I am wholly subjective.  

Everything I say about television or Hollywood or an actor or a show or a network is connected to my relationships in that arena.  So it doesn't matter if the LA Times or TV Guide or THZ puts a spin on a post.  If I'm commenting about showbiz, it's not from Kurt, the man, it's from Sutter, the writer/producer.  I have to own those words and every direction they may fly.  I have no right to judge others for their "interpretation".  If I have free speech, everyone has free speech.  

The reason I am feeling undone about some of my posts lately is because the blowback is effecting more than me.    

I've had strong reactions to perceived slights against Sons of Anarchy.  The problem is that because I am now a public person, my opinions of those incidents are not independent of the show.  When I speak out about anything to do with SOA, I am speaking as its showrunner.  Therefore I expose everyone associated with my show to the fallout of my re/actions.  It's never, Kurt Sutter Calls TV Academy Lazy Sheep.  It's Sons of Anarchy Creator Calls TV Academy Lazy Sheep.  

Not that anyone is going to hold a personal grudge against my cast or crew because they're pissed off at me, but they can hurt them indirectly by taking it out on the show.  For example, their are a few critics out there whom I've lambasted because of their scathing reviews.  I'm not saying that every review deserves to be positive, but since my retaliation, one critic in particular has gone out of her way to humiliate members of my cast in her reviews.  I'm pretty certain if I hadn't antagonized that relationship, the critiques would be a bit less personal.

But, I ain't gonna stop blogging.  I need it.

I look at my desk and see a Macbook, a shotgun and a bible.  I've got very few friends and so much shit I've gotta work out.  My words are my give and my take.  This blog is selfish expression as well as a cosmic contribution.  I need my virtual family to share that process.  The key for me is to distance my strong opinions (rants) from the specific work in progress.  For now, that would be Sons.  I can go off about Zucker and NBC because the only one who gets hurt there is me.  But if I piss off the TV Academy with a a thinly-veiled fuck you, there's a possibility I hurt my show (and everyone involved)'s chances for recognition.  

Note to self: 

If I fire the shotgun, I better be ready to take some retaliatory buckshot in the ass.  I just need to make sure that I'm the only ass in the line of fire.  

Thanks for reading.  

I don't know you, that's why I like you.

And if I do know you and I don't like you... that's not gonna change -- 

So, go fuck yourself and the small-minded, parasitic whores you rode in on.

Oh, I lifted the title from some spam I received yesterday.  Somehow, it just seemed right...