Brian Koppelman: For the Billions of Creatives Out There – The a16z Podcast with Marc Andreessen

Check out The a16z Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Trust that if you find a way to do the work well enough, and show up every day, the rewards will come over time
  • You DON’T have to quit your job to start working on your creative pursuit
  • Act like a professional before you’re paid like a professional
  • Set your own standards
    • If all you can afford is 30 minutes a day to work on your creative pursuit, then make working for 30 minutes the benchmark for a successful day
  • On good business partnerships:
    • It has to be more important to each of you that the other partner gets to make the decision than it is to prove yourself right
    • In a good partnership, you’ll be looking for as many chances as you can to let the other partner make the decision

Books Mentioned

Movies and TV Shows Mentioned

  • Brian is the co-writer of the hit movie Rounders
  • Billions Season 4 (Brian is also a co-writer) comes out March 17th
  • Brian can quote many lines from the movie Diner
  • “The fact that MINDHUNTER and The Crown came out in the same year on Netflix is amazing to me. Those would have been the best shows of an era. The Crown is as good as you can make something.” – Brian
  • Marc highly recommends people watch The Larry Sanders Show
    • It’s Brian’s “3rd favorite show of all time”    
  • Check out the movie Margin Call
    • Brian says the movie is very analogous to Rounders 
    • It was made for only ~$1.2 million
  • Sonal is trying to get Marc to watch Gully Boy, a Bollywood movie produced by Nas



  • This was the first project Brian’s longtime writing partner, David Levien, and him worked on together
  • It wasn’t a hit at first, and was very hard to sell, but it’s a classic today
  • “We were trying to write a movie that would have the effect on people that movies like Diner had on us – we would watch it over and over again and quote it”
  • “When we set out to write, we knew there was only a needle in the haystack chance of success”
    • “It was all about trusting that if we found a way to do the work well enough, the rewards would come.”

What did the writing process for Rounders look like?

  • Researching
    • Brian and David spent a lot of time in underground poker clubs, taking lots of notes
    • During this time, they tried to really focus on who the main character would be/what relationships he would have/and his main obstacles
  • Writing
    • Once they had done enough research, David and Brian decided to meet EVERY morning to write for a few hours before Brian went to work
      • Brian was working as an executive in the music business at the time, and didn’t quit his job – And importantly, you don’t have to
      • David was a bartender at the time and before meeting with Brian to write, he would sleep for just a few hours after his shift
      • Where did they meet?
        • A storage locker underneath Brian’s apartment, with barely enough room for both of them to sit
      • An important point to keep in mind – “You can act like a professional before you’re paid to write like a professional”
    • Brian notes how prior to writing the script and just hearing the idea, a producer offered the duo $5k to be their third partner
      • They were tempted, but ultimately decided to turn it down
      • If possible – write unencumbered

More on Writing Rounders:

  • “It wasn’t about whether I could have a movie in the movie theaters, what it was about was finding a way to have the courage to do the work that I was worried I’d fail at, all the while following my curiosity and obsessions”
    • If you’re obsessed and curious, and can create something worthwhile out of that, in the doing alone you’ll change for the better
  • Brian says that writing for 2 hours in the morning “charged him” for the rest of the day
  • If he and David wrote for just 2 hours, he considered the day a success
    • “We can all fall prey to being judged by a standard that isn’t our own. We have to find a way to remind ourselves that our own standard is the standard that matters.”
  • “As an artist, if you get to express the thing you want to express, and you get to make it, you’ve kind of already won”
    • The odds against completing something alone are so great

On Pitching and Sharing Your Work Before it’s Done

  • If you pitch an idea, or just share it, someone’s bound to say something that then sticks with you through the creative process
    • Be careful who you share your ideas with

Creative Death

  • When you don’t pursue your creative impulses, they die and it’s just like any other death – there’s this toxicity that’s attached to it
    • The toxicity leeches out – it makes you angry, resentful, bitter etc., and ends up affecting your relationships

Morning Pages

  • After reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Brian began the practice of writing “morning pages” at the start of EVERY day
    • What are morning pages?
      • It’s 3 long hand pages, written first thing in the morning
      • The whole idea is to just dump your subconscious onto the page
      • Just keep your pen moving – don’t be a perfectionist

How to Talk to Powerful People

  • Brian’s dad was a big executive in the music business, so from a young age Brian was around quite a few big names. To talk to these types of people, here’s what you should do:
    • Don’t treat them with a sense of awe
    • Don’t be condescending
    • But the biggest thing – make them laugh
      • Allow them to believe you’re really comfortable in your own skin

The Booming State of TV

  • If Brian were to pitch Rounders today, he’d probably pitch it as a TV show
  • Every year ~550 original scripted TV dramas are made
  • “I routinely see shows now where 20 years ago, it would have been the best show in the entire history of television” – Marc
    • “The fact that MINDHUNTER and The Crown came out in the same year on Netflix is amazing to me. Those would have been the best shows of an era. The Crown is as good as you can make something.” – Brian
      • “The Crown is just the most beautifully written, shot, and acted show that there is”

How to Find a Good Business Partner

  • Brian:
    • Find someone who compliments you
    • You need to really regard the other person as incredibly smart and know that their motive is to make the work better
    • “The key to having a good partnership is not about looking for the partner, it’s about how you can allow yourself to be at your best in a way that compliments the other person whom you respect and whose work you admire”
      • “The success or failure of a partnership is based entirely on how YOU comport yourself”
  • Marc adds:
    • It has to be more important to each of you that the other partner gets to make the decision than it is that you have to prove yourself right
      • You have to both have this attitude
      • With this, you’d have the mindset – “Okay, this is 50/50 and it’s a debate/toss-up…let’s just do this you’re way”
      • You’re looking for as many chances as you can to let the other partner make the decision
        • As a consequence of this, trust is built in the relationship, so when you do feel strongly about something you can then speak your mind freely


  • Brian mentions how Tim Ferriss has said that out of the hundreds of people he’s interviewed who he views as highly successful,  90%+ of them meditate
  • Brian first got interested in meditation after reading Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch
  • He does Transcendental Meditation (TM) twice a day for 20 minutes
    • It’s mantra-based – you just repeat a mantra over and over
      • If thoughts come, let them, and return to the mantra
  • Brian has found meditation to greatly reduce his anxiety levels
    • “For me, when I get anxiety out of the way, I just think more clearly and creatively”
  • Brian adds that he’s solved many tricky story problems through meditation
    • “I’ve come out of a meditation and just kind of had the answer show up”
  • Marc does not meditate
    • “I cannot imagine sitting still with my own thoughts for longer than about 30 seconds”

On Writing

  • “The most fun part for me is when I’m sitting on my couch writing the scenes. I have music blasting with my laptop on my lap and I’m able to sort of fly. That’s the part that isn’t intellectual at all. It’s the result of all the intellectual work you’ve ever done. It’s the result of your curiosity and everything you’ve read and watched…and then you just allow it to happen.”
  • “Write with total freedom, and rewrite with total clarity”


These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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