“WHEN IT HITS, IT HITS”
Roadmap CEO Joey Tuccio talks about rescuing dogs and writers, social anxiety, diversity mandates, and yes, the future of Roadmap Writers. Interview by Jennifer Kim, 200th writer signed through a Roadmap introduction (AAPI Initiative)
Jennifer Kim: Joey, first of all, thank you very much for matching me with Industry Entertainment. I'm going to be forever grateful to you and Roadmap.
Joey Tuccio: I'm so happy for you! You're so talented, and you were working so hard. You deserve it.
JK: Thank you! For people who don't know, what is Roadmap? What do you do?
JT: Roadmap Writers is a training organization for screenwriters. We're not a screenwriting 101 company. We're for writers who really want this as a career versus a hobby. When we find writers that we feel are ready, we advocate for them and send them to execs from production companies and reps that we have relationships with.
Roadmap's COO at Austin Film Festival with some Roadmap Writers
JK: How do you know when someone's ready?
JT: For me, it's a combination of the writer's voice and knowing that the writer is not a sociopath. I have to make sure that the writer is also a good human being. I have to know that the script is ready. So for the script itself, it's really about the voice, the atmosphere -- I want to make sure that the writer's style is oozing off the page, and for the actual human behind the script, making sure that they're a joy to communicate with. That they are not putting on insane expectations or anything. They know it's a journey, so it's really a combination of both things.
I will say for you, I feel you totally embody both, even just the emails we had together. It was so obvious that you're enjoying the process, the ups and downs. That's what excites me about a writer, that I know when they get signed, that's the next step of their journey. There will still be ups and downs, so knowing that they're along for the ride and not going to give up after two rejections, to me, that's important.
JK: That's great. Roadmap has a lot of initiatives running right now. There's seven, right?
JT: We get a little overzealous.
JK: When is the deadline to apply?
JT: We extended it to November 5.
JK: What are these initiatives briefly?
JT: For the past five and a half years, we've been running free diversity initiatives, and for us, it's very important. I'm a gay CEO and everybody working at the company is either a woman, diverse, or a person of color. So for us, it's really important that it's not just the same old, same old perspectives being seen or championed. For us, we really want to make sure that all voices are heard.
We have a few initiatives going on now – it's all free, celebrating our signing over 200 writers. We have BIPOC initiatives for writers that fall under that category. They can submit a script, a bio, and a logline. If we feel we can help, we'll market it.
We help promote writers with visible and non-visible disabilities, female writers over 45, and support staff, which is writers that currently work on a series or have worked on a series in the past 12 months. I know as a former assistant how little money one makes as an assistant and how little extra time an assistant has to promote their stuff. All this is for free to give those people an extra push.
JK: Isn't there one for contest finalists?
JT: Oh my god, yes, Jennifer, work here, you're better than me at keeping track! I have worked with writers for a little over 10 years, and one of the biggest things that writers complain about competitions is that if you don't win, it's like you've lost. Not lost, but you've spent money, and it's just kind of a gamble. It's unfair because contests are so subjective. We wanted to give writers who have placed in four of the competitions that we personally really like Page, Austin Film Festival, Nicholl, and Slamdance, to give those writers an extra marketing push, even if they didn't win.
JK: That's very nice. So if you were a quarterfinalist….
JT: Yes, for those four competitions. I know the owners of Page and Slamdance, and they're amazing and really care about the writer’s success. I don't know anybody at AFF or Nicholl, but I know that they really do vet writers. So for now, those are the four contests that we're focused on.
JK: For some of these initiatives, do you have to be diverse?
JT: For the contest one, no, For ones that are BIPOC, AAPI, LGBTQIA+, you do have to be one of those things. If you enter the disability initiative, women over 45 initiative, support staff initiative, or contest placement initiative, you can be any background.
JK: This may be a little controversial. A white person told me they're worried about all the white males who can't get jobs now. Diversity mandates, you know, some people think that they're taking away jobs from other people.
JT: It's interesting whenever we run a diversity initiative, I always get an email from somebody, basically saying that ‘Do you have any free Initiatives for white men or straight men?’
And the answer is yes if you fit into the contest, disabilities, support staff, and writing women characters over 50. But for us and for what your question is, it's not taking jobs away from them. It's giving jobs – it's balancing it out. It's really making sure that the writers’ rooms have different points of view, different perspectives. It's opening up jobs that should have been there for those other people before.
So it's not taking away jobs – it's just balancing it out. Because there's so much content out there, and there's so many ways to break in – podcasts, obviously the traditional narratives, film and TV, shorts. There's so many ways writers can break-in. I think there's more jobs than ever right now. Just from Roadmap, we've seen so many writers recently get staffed, sign deals, regardless of their background. It's really exciting.
JK: That's good to know because I think people truly worry there's a shortage of jobs.
JT: There really isn't. I met with a writer the other day we helped get signed. She's in the past two years sold two podcasts, two TV shows, been staffed twice. She's getting job after job after job. It's just because she's really talented. She's great in the room -- she's really easy to work with. So when it hits, it hits.
JK: Good to know, now I know what to say to people.
JT: I feel that's so ballsy of somebody to come up to you basically saying, ‘Your existence is hindering my job search.’ That's so disgusting.
JK: It's not said explicitly, more like: ‘Oh you know, I'm just worried about all the other people who can't get jobs now that there are diversity mandates.’
JT: It's unfortunate that it had to get to a point that they really had to force diversity into mandates. I wish it was just there and people understood that storytelling is about different perspectives. I was talking to another writer who got staffed on a show with a gay lead, and he's the only gay writer in the whole room. It's a little shocking because for such a huge show with a gay lead, and there's only one gay perspective. We still have a lot of work to do.
JT: We occasionally run a one-off initiative to spotlight a specific group of people to help promote them. And we run a free monthly initiative that we have run for five years specifically for diverse writers. And now we’ve got seven initiatives open till November 5.
JK: That's awesome! How long has Roadmap been in existence?
JT: Five and a half years. I can't believe it. It goes by really fast, but at the same time, it doesn't. It's a weird combination.
JK: And you were Happy Writers before this. Was that a similar service?
JT: Yes, so I had started a company 10 years ago called Happy Writers. I had that for about a year and a half. I really came in fresh-eyed and bushy-tailed. I wanted to help writers, but how? We had a very, very small clientele in the beginning, obviously. The first few writers really gave us a shot even though we didn't have a track record because we just started.
So we did that for a year and a half or maybe two years, and then it was acquired by another company. I stayed on for about two years after that before I decided to move on. It was a good learning experience, but more than anything else it made it clear to me that I had a different approach to how I wanted to work with writers.
I feel in this industry, as you have seen even recently, really recently, that companies in this field can grow so fast and could easily kind of steer in the wrong direction in terms of just not caring so much about the personalized approach with writers but making it more about the bottom line. I feel that works if you're selling cupcakes or clothes where there's no soul behind it. But there's a soul behind it, and I feel you always have to make sure the writer always comes first -- that you're actually doing what you're supposed to do for the right reasons.
JK: Joey, why are you so happy? You're one of the most positive, magical people I've come across. That's why I first wanted to interview you. I need to know, what, how does this happen? Who are your influences? What was your childhood like? How would you describe your personality?
JT: I would say that I'm very insecure, not confident, paranoid, neurotic… I will say those are the four ways to describe me, and somehow that leads to happiness. I wouldn't say it's happiness – I would say it's more exciting. I get very excited. I get very excited because I do dog rescue, too, animal rescue, so finding animals homes or helping a good human being, a good writer, get some traction – that's very exciting, that gets me over the moon more than anything else. So when that happens, I get very excited. And it's fun because I know how hard the world is in any facet, so just giving a little extra push just makes me happy.
Joey and his rescue partner, Shira Astrof, rescuing a dog from a kill shelter.
JK: Wow, that's not the answer I expected.
JT: Here's the thing -- I come from zero business background. Working with writers is the only thing I’ve ever known. Roadmap is the only thing I've ever been the CEO of. I didn't go to college. I didn't go through the proper channels, so I'm always learning. I guess I'm happy because, at Roadmap, we're so not corporate. We want to keep it fun, we want to keep it excited, we want to keep everybody kind of fresh and energized. Not bogged down by being super corporate and looking at the quarterly earnings or losses or whatever they're called.
It's just about keeping the human connection. When I talk to other CEOs about Roadmap, they're like, 'Wait, how long have you been the CEO of a company, because you don't know basic terminology?' I usually just laugh and smile back. But it's fine.
JK: I think people's perception of you from what I hear is – ‘He's amazing. He's magical, so positive, so nice.’ Kudos to you.
JT: I’m just a ball of neuroses and insecurity. Anti-social but not in a snotty way. I'm just very nervous in crowds, just a whole bunch of insecurities!
JK: Are you an extrovert, introvert?
JT: Introvert, for sure.
JK: (disbelief): No, you are not.
JT: An extrovert on Zoom, Zoom is fine. In a party setting, I immediately just look for the exit. I walk in and see – I could leave that way, ghost that way. What about you, what are you?
JK: An introvert. I think most writers are introverts. I mean, I'm on the line – I could turn it on when I have to, but then I want to go home.
JT: Yeah, seriously!
JK: Is this why you didn't come to my party, Joey?
JT: Can I be honest with you? That's one of the reasons – because I get very nervous in crowds. I was afraid I would go and then be super awkward because I also suffer from really bad panic attacks to the point where I feel I'm having a heart attack. I get nervous when I'm outside of my comfort zone. I just have to get better at it because it's, you know, obviously, it's hindering.
JK: Thanks for sharing that. Just to let you know, there were about nine people, and they came over two days. They were staggered in.
JT: I love that. That's my jam.
JK: Who were your influences growing up? Who made you this great person? Well, this great neurotic person?
JT: Obviously, my parents. They work super, super hard. My dad's always had his own business, so he's never worked for anybody. That was inspiring to me for sure. My mom is a comedy writer, and I saw how hard she worked – that's one of the reasons I want to help writers. I've never really been inspired by the super corporate people who are just working at huge conglomerate companies. I just never really got excited about that. I got more excited about the rogue people, the people that came out of nowhere and did stuff. That's exciting.
JK: That makes sense considering Roadmap as a company. What were your favorite shows and movies growing up?
JT: Okay, now, let's get into it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for sure, and Jurassic Park for movies. When I was in high school, all I wanted to do was be a vampire slayer, that was my dream, I was obsessed.
JK: Why Buffy?
JT: I love the idea of normal people doing extraordinary things and keeping that balance between their normal life and their other life. That always fascinated me. It was also on when I was in high school, so it made school seem more fun. I have always been more drawn to powerful women than powerful men.
JK: Why Jurassic Park?
JT: I watched this when I was the same age as the character Lex, and it provided an amazing sense of escapism. I watched it so many times that I could recite the whole script by heart, also known as having no life.
JK: My friend does dog rescue like you. She said there are people in that world called 'networkers.' Joey, are you a networker?
JT: What does that mean?
JK: That means you post a lot on social media, you're well-connected, and able to get a lot of dogs placed in new homes.
JT: We're friends on Facebook, right?
JK: Yes, I've seen your feed.
JT: I've had so many people unfriend me because they're like – ‘I can't see another sad dog picture,’ my sister included! It's just one post after another after another. If I didn't do anything with dogs, I wouldn't be on social media because Facebook has been so helpful in getting so many dogs adopted just by sharing posts. A lot of the writers I've worked with have dogs from us or foster.
JK: That's so nice!
JT: I post all the time the dogs that we're able to post. Some dogs we're not able to for whatever reason. It's a lot. When somebody friends me, and I know they're sensitive – I tell them, ‘Just know this is what's going to happen. Your feed is going to look very different.’
JK: Have you placed more dogs or writers?
JT: I mean, me personally, writers – but the rescue overall, dogs.
JK: Are you working for one rescue?
JT: I'm the chair of a rescue called Animal Rescue Mission. There's three of us, Shira, Kevin and myself. They are very active, always going to Tijuana every other month to rescue stray dogs. I go when they can. But overall, the rescue has rescued dogs from all over the world, not just LA, but it just never ends.
JK: How many years has the rescue been going?
JT: Five years.
JK: Dog networker, people networker. How would you compare rescuing dogs and rescuing writers?
JT: I feel rescuing dogs puts things in perspective for me. Because often it's life or death. When I'm pushing for a writer to get signed, and they don't, I get very sad or frustrated, just as the writer does. But then I see a dog that's about to be put down, and not even just a writer comparison, but just for myself, it takes me out of myself a little bit. The smaller issues that I have don't even compare to a dog. We found a dog in a homeless camp who had a huge gaping hole in his neck…To me, that's life or death, and that gets my adrenaline going more.
It just puts things in perspective for me. I tell writers – my job is like being half therapist for writers – if the writer gets frustrated, and I feel they're being frustrated too prematurely to be frustrated, I sometimes suggest they do some volunteer work. Go out there and come with me on a rescue. Let's show you what real problems are. Put things in perspective. I've taken writers and managers on trips before to Skid Row, and it changes their perspective on things.
Joey and his rescue partners in Tijuana
JK: That's great. How many dogs do you have personally?
JT: I have two, Gilly and Piper. They're both pit bulls.
JK: What do you like about pit bulls?
JT: I always want to give them a second chance because they are so misunderstood and loving. What about you – any pets?
JK: I have two cats, Roger and Ellie, mother and son.
JT: How cute!
JK: They're adorable. Just regular cats, a tabby and a calico.
JT: I love that!
JK: (quickly) I rescued them from the Pasadena Humane Society.
JT: That was my next question. It's awkward sometimes when I go to drinks or dinner or talk with a writer, and they say they got their dog from a breeder. A couple of times, I've ended a meeting short because of this. This is just against everything I believe in.
JK: I saw your Facebook post about how you won't let people order beef.
JK: Can you just walk me through an average day for you? What I'm imagining is you're out there rescuing dogs, leash in one hand, phone on the other, and you're just making matches.
JT: It's more like 13 hours in front of the computer. Reading writers' pages, emailing execs over and over and over and over and over and over again. It's very repetitive, and then if I see a dog, I'll post it on Facebook or go after at night to rescue a dog or something. Occasionally, I'll take a full day off to go to Tijuana or something. It's very much a combination of just reading scripts and getting it out there.
That's one thing, as a CEO, that I don't know if it's good or bad, but I don't really think about ways to grow the company in terms of ‘let's try to acquire this one. Let's take time out of my day to figure out the next big move.’ It's more just getting the writers matched over and over again because, to me, that's why we're doing it. It's not to try to expand exponentially. It's more to make sure the writers that we have in our programs are serviced.
JK: How many people in Hollywood do you know? Do you know everyone?
JT: Through what I do, I guess a lot, but one thing I love is finding the new person, the new writer, finding the new exec that I don't know that I should know. To me, that's really exciting. I was talking to a couple of execs on Friday, and it's just another opportunity for writers. I didn't know these people before, and now I do. It's exciting when they're looking for this, and I'm like Dylan would be great for this, or Jennifer will be great for this. I love that, that's exciting. It's a kind of unlocking another door.
Roadmap's Director of Education, Roadmap's COO and Roadmap Writer
JK: What's the latest thing an executive said to you they're looking for?
JT: Weird absurdist comedies. One thing execs say over and over that they're looking for – which has shifted so much in the past year and a half – is not even so much ‘I'm looking for sci-fi, I'm looking for comedy.’ It's now – I'm looking for writers with unique stories or unique perspectives and points of view.
Three plus years ago, it was very transactional – ‘I'm looking for a sci-fi writer, I'm looking for the next Fast and Furious, I'm looking for a big-budget commercial, commercial, commercial hit.’ Now it's totally flipped, and regardless of budget, regardless of genre, it's ‘I'm looking for somebody who has something interesting to say.’ To me, this is exciting because it spotlights more on the human behind the script versus just a script.
JK: That's cool – so anybody can really break in then if they have –
JT: People are breaking in with short stories, articles… I'm glad this is happening because nothing is more frustrating to me in the past 10 years than working with a writer who has no passion for their work. They're just writing it because they think Fast and Furious did well, so let me write another Fast and Furious-type story. But it's the writers who are writing stories that are important to them – they just put a story into their own perspective with their own lens to it. That's really awesome.
JK: Have you matched people based on short stories, articles, other things?
JT: Not me personally. I've had much better luck with scripts, not so much short stories. I've helped a few directors recently. One of the writers who got signed relatively recently, one of the big selling points is that she was a journalist, too. So she had a lot of articles that she wrote, and the execs wanted to read her different articles, so that was cool.
Same thing for you – your story was so unique; I've never heard a story like that before. I've never seen that perspective before, so I knew exactly that we're going to vibe with it because this is so cool, it's so unique.
JK: Thank you so much for championing it. What's Roadmap Authors?
JT: It's basically the same thing as Roadmap Writers but helping authors who have manuscripts. We started it because a lot of the screenwriters we work with are also authors, a good number of them. They have the same struggles that screenwriters do: they want to find an agent, they want to try to find a book-to-film agent or some kind of production company looking for IP with IP being so huge.
We want to try to shepherd authors and train them to elevate their pages, queries, and prose and see how we can help those authors. The past year, I think we had 12 authors signed. Selene Castrovilla spearheads the author's side. She's amazing. She's been really helpful getting the authors ready. When she finds an author she thinks is ready, she'll let me know, and I'll market for them.
Roadmap Author Signed
JK: Backtracking here, when and why did Roadmap start the initiatives?
JT: The first initiative we did was to help spotlight AAPI writers. The AAPI one we started when COVID happened, and there was just such a surge of hate towards that community. We started that initiative to give AAPI writers the well-deserved spotlight that they should have. Afterward, we saw those writers coming in, and I was like, ‘Wow, these writers are so talented.’ Aadip Desai (a super talented TV writer) and I are friends, and a while ago, we were talking about diversity and making a real change. A lot of places were just checking off the boxes but not actually doing anything about it. We decided to start a BIPOC diversity initiative maybe a year ago. So we did that one first.
That's one thing, I guess, I'm fueled by anger because I get so frustrated when I see somebody so good, and I ask, ‘Why are they not signed? What's going on?’ I know they're trying hard, too. Next, we will be doing an indigenous people, First Nations, soon. We did an LGBTQUI+ one recently, which is, obviously, very important to me.
To answer your question, we started the initiatives maybe a year ago beyond the monthly Diversity Initiative Competition we have been running for five years. We started the monthly one because one of our writers, Coletta Preacely-Garcia, who I have known forever, a beautiful, amazing African American woman, died suddenly and with no warning. So we started that in her honor and have been running it since 2016.
JK: I've seen that on your site – that's a really nice tribute to Coletta. It's cool how Roadmap has created a ton of access for people. And it's free through the initiatives! How many people have you matched through the initiatives?
JT: Maybe 30 or 40 total. It's hard to say – I should have counted. From the monthly diversity competition combined with the initiatives started about a year ago, I would say about 30 or so, including writers who have gotten staffed and writers that have been optioned and produced. I would say about 30 or so. The majority of the writers getting signed are from our Career Writer Program. (At the time of this interview, Roadmap had helped 206 writers total get signed).
JK: I think there's a perception that everybody getting matched is diverse.
JT: So true, because one really horrible person recently was like, ‘It's unfair that all these diverse writers are taking spots.’ Similar to your point at the beginning. They're not taking spots. There's enough success to go around. Some of our recent success stories besides the initiatives are straight white people as well. It's just whatever connects with an exec connects with an exec, regardless of the background.
JK: Totally, I'm sure that's this will make a lot of people feel good. What's the best and worst advice you've ever received?
JT: The best advice probably was from Howard Rosenman, a producer I met when I came out to Los Angeles and was trying to befriend the heads of companies, the billionaires, thinking I want to be friends with them because that will help. But he said don't go to them; instead, grow in the industry with other people. Stay at your level at the beginning always, and then just grow with those people. That was really great advice.
And the worst advice I got was when I was working at a production company. The owner told me to lower the octave of my voice when I answered the phone because it sounded too feminine. I tried it a couple of times, then I started just gargling. I couldn't get that low, so I'm like, whatever, they can hear me anyway. (Switches to falsetto when picking up the phone) Helloooo?
JK: What advice would you give to writers trying to break in right now?
JT: Know what your personal logline is, know what you're trying to say with your writing, know what your point of view is. Don't just write things because you think Jordan Peele did this very well that you want to write the next horror film in that world. Make sure it's something that you connect with personally and put that onto the page. Regardless of budget, genre, scope, whatever, it will stand out. You just have to really know who you are as a human and then translate that into your writing.
JK: What is your personal logline?
JT: I want to see content being made that changes the narrative and gives marginalized people a chance to show who they are as humans and creatives.
JK: That's very meaningful. Does Roadmap teach classes on how to develop your personal logline?
JT: We do that in the Career Writer Program, which really is the flagship of our company. We teach writers what a personal logline is, how to put it into their bio, how to prioritize loglines. I think it's so important and something that's not taught really in colleges. It's really about knowing who you are as a human first.
Some of Roadmap's Career Program Writers
JK: Totally get that. Oh wait, I forgot – you wanted me to ask about the qualities you're looking for in a husband.
JT: Confident…and a little dangerous. This might sound weird and very hypocritical to everything – but they can't have dogs, or they can't have animals. Why? Because I was in a relationship a while ago with someone who had two dogs. It was impossible because my two dogs don't get along with other dogs. So he couldn't come over, I couldn't go over, that's part of the reason why the relationship ended. So they have to like animals, but they can't have any.
JK: Thank makes sense. So it was confidence…
JT: Yes, confidence and a little dangerous.
JK: That's it?
JT: Yes, that's it. Otherwise, I'm fine.
JK: I'm sure that's going to help some people.
JT: We'll see where we fit this into the article.
JK: So what's the future of Roadmap?
JT: We are creating more paths for writers to get their stuff made. We're not talking about partnerships with different screenwriting organizations or places like that – but more strategic collaboration with companies that could actually help writers.
For us, it's not about trying to find something to add net worth to Roadmap, but it's more about adding more worth to the writers. That's going to be the next thing – creating more pathways for writers outside of the normal marketing that we do. Also, a clause that anybody who gets signed has to adopt at least three dogs. (laughs) I will try to make this retroactive, too.
JK: Excellent. I forgot to ask – what's the behind-the-scenes on your matching process? What is the company doing?
JT: Everybody is supposed to read, especially with the initiatives, it's all hands on deck. Whenever there's a script or writer that they like, they let me know. I'll read a few pages, and if I connect, then I'll market it.
Mostly, I spend whole days reading stuff myself from writers through any of our programs and see how else I can help. So it's a combination – I'm usually the one that actually does the marketing, emailing execs we work with to see if they want to meet or read our writers. But it's definitely a team effort: Jorge, who runs our competition, lets me know which ones are on his radar. Christine, who runs our pitch sessions, will let me know which writers are getting good feedback. Terra, who runs our consultations, will let me know who's getting good feedback.
Because for me and everybody at Roadmap, we really want to provide a light at the end of the tunnel. A writer could only take so many classes before they're like, ‘Okay, now I'm digressing because now I'm just trying to get more advice, more advice/’ But you only need so much advice, and then you have to have somebody to really help open the doors for you. And then you're like, ‘Okay, I am in a good spot. I just didn't know it because I didn't have access to execs who could help before.’ That's where we step in.
JK: You're like having a really great friend who can refer the crap out of you.
JT: Yeah, that's what it is, and that's what it takes. I think that's a testament to our writers because more execs are joining Roadmap. They hear people getting signed, staffed, optioned. One of our writers' scripts, Sex Appeal, that we found and I read three or four years ago and loved will soon be premiering on Hulu. To me, that's very exciting. I love that stuff!
Joey Tuccio is the founder and CEO of Roadmap Writers and co-chair of the Animal Rescue Mission.
Jennifer Kim is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist who wrote the award-winning Korean American Witches Society. She is repped by Industry Entertainment.