Marc Guggenheim, a writer/producer for television, film, comic books and video games, sat down with Bitter Lawyer recently to talk about his work.
Where have we seen your work?
Television:The Practice;Law & Order;Dragnet;Jack & Bobby;CSI: Miami; In Justice;Brothers & Sisters;Eli Stone.
Film:Green Lantern (in development);Resurrection (in development).
Comic books:Aquaman (DC Comics, 2005);Batman Confidential (DC Comics, waiting on publication);The Punisher (Marvel Comics, waiting on publication);Wolverine (Marvel Comics, 2006-2007);Squadron Supreme: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk (Marvel Comics, 2006);Blade (Marvel Comics, 2006-2007);Flash: The Fastest Man Alive (DC Comics, 2007);Superman/Batman (DC Comics, 2007);Marvel Comics Presents: Vanguard (2007-2008);Resurrection (Oni Press 2007-Present);Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Comics 2007-Present); Young X-Men (Marvel Comics 2008);Wolverine vs. Blade (Marvel Comics, waiting on publication);Ultra Zombies (Dynamic Forces, waiting on publication);Stephen King’s N. (Marvel Comics, waiting on publication).
Video games:Perfect Dark Zero;Call of Duty 3;Fracture;X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Wow, that’s a lot of content for a lot of different mediums. How do you manage to balance all of that?
I honestly don’t know. I get asked that a lot, but I don’t have enough insight into my own process to truly answer. I will say—and often tell people—that my experience as a lawyer, handling multiple cases at the same time, trained me to be an efficient multi-tasker. I also think that writing briefs under tight deadlines made me a very fast writer. My speed is my secret weapon.
Where did you go to law school?
Boston University School of Law.
No, but I served as Managing Editor of the Boston University School of LawPublic Interest Law Journal.
Where did you practice?
Hutchins, Wheeler & Dittmar.
What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
Funny. So many to choose from. I’d have to say my worst moment was when I went into court on a motion I had inherited from another attorney and, in front of the client and in court, discovered that the lawsuit had been defective. It was a technical defect, but one that I should have caught.
What was your best moment?
My last moment in court, actually. The jury was about to be sworn in after a three-year pre-trial period, and I made a last-minute motion in limine that effectively crippled the plaintiffs’ case. Five minutes after the judge granted the motion, opposing counsel walked up to me and said, “Okay, you win.” We quickly worked out a settlement that was very favorable to my client.
What was your “I have to get the f**k out of here” epiphany?
There were so many. My biggest one came after a particularly bad review when one of the partners told me that all the litigation associates were getting bad reviews because the litigation department was creating a paper trail to show that litigation associates were not getting the partnership nod. (This was during the tech boom when litigation was on the decline and the balance of power at the firm was titled sharply to the transactional side.)
What was the first day of not practicing like?
Amazing. I took a trip down to D.C. to see a friend. I felt free.
You managed to escape the law and become a writer. How did that happen?
I’d started writing during my third year of law school. By the time I stopped practicing, I’d written several scripts, honed my craft and gotten a manager. I’d also had several meetings with producers and studio executives, so I had a pretty good sense of whether people responded to my writing. I scheduled my move west to coincide with what’s known as staffing season—the period during which television shows meet with and hire writers—and wrote a new sample (aWest Wing script), which my manager sent to an agent. The agent sent the script to the then-president of David E. Kelley’s company. She responded to my writing, set up a meeting with David, and he hired me onThe Practice.
How did you get into writing for video games?
My agent at the time got me a job writing a game for Microsoft:Perfect Dark Zero, which was one of the XBox 360 launch titles. As with most things, work begets work.
What’s the process for video games?
It’s different for every project with every developer. The idea of hiring outside screenwriters is relatively new to videogames, so there really isn’t any set process.
With each game I’ve worked on, I’ve come in at different stages in the development of the game, so each experience has been unique. My most in-depth experience was onCall of Duty 3. It was the only time I lived near the developer of the game, so I was able to have an office right alongside the programmers and developers. That was a really great experience.
Any similarities between practicing law and writing video games?
All of my writing draws on my experiences as an attorney servicing clients and solving problems. In both endeavors, you’re trying to make sure that the client is happy and things are running smoothly.
How did the comic book writing come about?
Well, a friend of mine works for David Goyer (Batman Begins,The Dark Knight), and David did some comic book work a few years back. My friend was astounded that I wasn’t writing comics, given my longtime love of the medium. I explained to her that comics are harder to break into than film or television. In film and television, you at least have an agent helping you get a gig. Well, she helped by putting me in touch with Goyer’s editor and that led to a two-issue arc onAquaman for DC Comics. And that story so set the comic book world on fire that… nothing happened for a year.
Then my manager introduced me to someone at Marvel Comics, and that led to a one-issuePunisher story. The editor I wrote that for was sufficiently impressed to give me a high-profile assignment writing a story forWolverine—one of Marvel’s most popular characters—and that put me on the map, so to speak. After that, the phone started ringing off the hook from both DC and Marvel.
Ever thought about writing a comic book about lawyers?
Yes. I’m hoping to turn my television show,Eli Stone, into a comic book series, actually.
What comics would most appeal to the Bitter Lawyer in all of us?
Tough question. The obvious answer would be Marvel’sDaredevil, since he’s an attorney. I’d also recommendY: The Last Man andThe Walking Dead. Both are post-apocalyptic stories, but they really make you think about the fabric of society, which is something lawyers traffic in.
Did you ever consider yourself a Bitter Lawyer?
Bitter? Not really. Unhappy? Yes. Anxious? Very. Tired? Extremely. Stressed? Always.
Any advice for lawyers looking for a new career?
Think hard about what your goal is and don’t be afraid to pursue it. Don’t talk yourself out of it. And don’t put yourself in a position where you can—e.g. buying a huge new house.
On my last day at my firm, I can’t tell you how many attorneys came up to me, many of them partners, and said some variation of, “I can’t tell you how envious I am. I wish I could do what you’re doing, but I have too many responsibilities.”