Nick Santora: Producer, Prison Break

Bitter Success interview, Interviews, Lawyer 14 Comments

What’s your current job? What other projects are you working on?

The majority of my time is spent as a writer/co-executive producer on the Fox TV show “Prison Break.” I also created and serve as an executive producer on “Beauty & The Geek,” a reality show on The CW Network that is clearly based on my relationship with my wife. I write feature films as well and have two movies being released this year—I was a credited writer on The Punisher: War Zone and also wrote and produced The Longshots, starring Ice Cube. My first novel was also published this year – it’s called Slip & Fall. I’m proud to say it’s a national best seller and has been said by some to give the first real insight of what it is like to be a day-in/day-out courtroom litigator. In other words, it shows how shitty it really is.

So what does a fancy Hollywood writer/producer really do? What’s a typical day like?

I have a pretty strict routine. I basically get up at 5 am every morning, run 6 miles, then after a shower I get a therapeutic massage from Trista, an amazing sports medicine professional I met at a bar in Malibu. Then after an hour of cleansing transcendental meditation, I sit at my desk and talk to the blank page in front of me. No, I don’t write anything. I just talk to a stack of blank pages on my desk: “How are you today, pages?” “What kind of story would you like to become?” “Thank you for being part of my muse today.” I honestly believe harmony and balance is necessary between all things, living and non-living, to truly create art.

Okay, now do you seriously want to know what I REALLY do every day? I’m usually awakened at 6am when my four year old daughter, Sophie, decides a nice way to start my day would be a hard-plastic Ariel the Mermaid doll smashed into my face repeatedly until I open my eyes. After shoehorning myself into one of the two pairs of jeans that actually still fit me, I grab breakfast, which is normally no more than a handful of whatever Sophie has left on her plate. Usually I am scooping Sesame Street Organic Oatmeal into my palm and shoving it into my food-hole as I thrust my cheek at my wife for a goodbye kiss while stumbling over the assortment of Disney Princess crap my kid has left in front of the door. But, hey, at least the oatmeal is organic.

Now is the fun part of my day . . . I get to experience the pleasures of the Los Angeles freeway system. Eventually I get to the 20th Century Fox Studio Lot and can roll up my sleeves and get to work. This begins with 3 bowls of Lucky Charms and a Pop Tart, because you need your Potassium. The writers then all gather in the writers’ room to start making Hollywood magic! After a 2-hour debate over whether a walrus could kill a bear (please note that there is neither a walrus nor a bear in the show) we break for lunch. After a perfect 40-30-30 lunch (40% carbs, 30% fat, 30% sugar) we go back into the writers’ room and spend the afternoon debating which of our assistants is the fastest. We eventually realize that we should not waste valuable work time, as the answer could not be ascertained through mere debate. So, after the 2008 Assistant Olympics are over it is almost 3:30 or as we like to say in the Hollywood game, Quittin’Time! We all jump back into our Hummer Hybrids and crank liberal talk radio as we peel out of the parking lot.

Okay, I’ll try it again. This time VERY seriously. We have a writers’ room. We have 8 writers. We break stories together as a team. We take it very seriously, and we hold each other and ourselves to high standards. In the room, there is no hierarchy except that when we are tied on an issue the Showrunnner breaks the tie. Four of the writers are also producers on the show. I, as I stated earlier, am a co-executive producer. Basically we are involved in all aspects of the show from writing to casting to music spotting (that means working with those who create the musical score of the episodes) and lots and lots of editing. It is very long hours and sometimes hard and sometimes frustrating but ALWAYS rewarding.

I get to work with the best and most talented people in the business, and I love every minute of it. Truth be told, my commute could be twice as long, and I’d still be happy to do it.

Law school? Class rank? Law review?

I started out at Notre Dame Law School and quickly realized that I didn’t fit in because, at least at that school, I was one of the most liberal students there. After making Law Review at Notre Dame, I transferred back to my home town of New York and spent my last two years at Columbia University where I quickly realized that I didn’t fit in because I was, at least at that school, one of the most conservative students there.

What firms did you work at?

Sullivan & Cromwell. Talisman, Rudin & DeLorenz.

Practice area?

Corporate Litigation. Personal Injury.

Worst memory of being a lawyer?

Sadly, this is a true story; this is not a joke. I was in New York and covering about 5 different hearings and/or motions in 3 different courthouses all over lower Manhattan – and they were all at 9:30. I was running up and down Centre Street, across Broadway and every time I raced into a courtroom I learned that I had just missed my case being called and was being bumped back down to “second call”.

This was during one of those horse-shit periods when New York was promising to “clean up the backlog in the court system” so if you missed second call your case would be marked off the calendar and then you’d have to go back to your firm and take shit from the dumbass partner that assigned you five hearings at the same time in the first place.

At one point I was hurrying across the street and I saw a blind woman at the corner. She was alone and was politely asking the crowd of hurried New Yorkers near her if somebody could please help guide her across the street. Everyone ignored her, including me. I blew past her like she was standing still because, well, she was standing still.

I was half-way across the street when I realized how much I hated myself, what I had become, what a giant pussy I was—I mean, I was literally running around every day, doing motions and hearings and depositions, continuing to spend the one and only life I will ever have doing something I loathed because I was scared to be unemployed.

In that instant, in the middle of the crosswalk, I thought about my mother—the most generous, caring, selfless woman in the world. I thought about what she would think of her son, if she could see him at that very moment, abandoning a blind woman at a corner. Fuck it, I thought. I don’t care if I’m late, I don’t care if the case gets marked off the calendar, I don’t care if I get fired. I’m helping that woman across the fuckin’ street.

I went back, took the woman by the arm and walked with her. When she thanked me I felt sick. If she only knew how close I came to leaving her ass behind. A few days later I started writing my first screenplay, praying to God that it would lead me out of practicing law forever.

Best memory of being a lawyer?


Please describe your “I have to get the f*** out of here” epiphany?

Gee, you mean worse than abandoning a blind woman at a street corner? Well, after my second day of work at Sullivan & Cromwell I got home a little after midnight and cried like a sissy to my then girlfriend (now wife) about how I had just spent 3 years of my life (and gone six figures into debt) to get a degree to do something I absolutely hated. Yeah, that kinda was a low point.

What’s the biggest lifestyle difference between being a writer and a lawyer?

I will NEVER, EVER wear a suit again. The way I dress to go to work, I honestly look like a homeless man. The more successful you are in Hollywood, the worse you can dress. If I ever win an Emmy, I might go to work naked.

Any advice for Bitter Lawyers out there looking to change careers?

Do it! Do it! Do it! If you don’t have a family there is no excuse not to do it. If you have a family, start planning an exit strategy. Talk to everyone you know. Try to find another way to use your talents. Know there are options. But, whatever you do, just get the hell out! And, of course, buy my book, Slip & Fall. It was written by a guy who was in the mindset of a lawyer at his all-time low. You’ll see that there are others out there just like you.

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  • K.J.

    Prison Break and 24 are the only 2 shows I watch

  • Nick Santora

    Nick Santora here.  So glad to see that my a-hole friends are posting comments!  Thanks pals!

  • burstlp1958

    from the last I saw of Nick on his book tour I have to doubt the 6 mile run routine but he always looked a bit homeless.  Come to think of it the second to last time I saw him he was wearing some kind of suit–despite the paucity of credibility we here in nyc hope he returns soon.

  • jake straka

    i think guy nick santora worked on a show called the guardian too.  i loved that show.

  • LayersOfFat

    I am so happy to see what a huge success this young boy has become.  My name is Meirna Shiffman and I am the old blind woman who Nick helped across the street.  Nick was a very big inspiration to my boy Eric.  Eric was an unhappy and overweight lawayer who used to come home everyday and drink beers and eat nachos til he passed out.  But, thanks to Nick and his very inspiring book, Eric has since quit the law business and has become a car salesman in NJ.  He loves his job very much but still comes home every day and drinks beers and eat nachos till he passes out. So, what do I do now?  Nick, do you have any advice you can give me on my boy Eric, you know the one you guys used to call Fluke. Respectfully yours, Meirna—by the way I have a braile computer which allowed me to pen this note.

  • Anushaya Choudhary

    Nick is one of the most talented writer and has a brilliant future …… and reading this article …….. sure does have a gr8 sense of humour……

  • Brittany

    Nick, you are so hilarious.
    FYI- I met Nick in NYC last July and he was AMAZING. He’s a member of a website that I help run: and myself and two other girls from the website went to one of his book signings for “Slip and Fall”.
    Yes, his head is shiny, and yes he totally rocks the dress coat with jeans.
    That’s all, goodbye!

  • Dana Diotte

    Fear of being unemployed. That’s me. Thank for the inspiration. Exit strategy phase 1 in motion……

  • fran mancini/ your dad’s breakfast club

    Enjoyed your book.  Your really captured the

    characters of the “Bad Guys”

  • yo!

    this guy is an amazing talent.  the law profession never deserved him!

  • Christiane

    This is so hilarious!!! Nick you rock!!! You are not only a good writer, but you could write also for standup comics I tell you. *hugs*

  • brendan

    funny, you and the other guy interviewed (from cerberus), both worked at s & c.  mmmm.

  • girlatastartup

    So true.  If you don’t go for what you want, you’ll end up hating yourself.  Then again, no one said it was easy.

  • Vanessa

    Nick, you have just made my day sitting in this chair in this high-powered law office so much better.  This is hilarious.. and inspiring.  Thanks, man.