UT Dallas Magazine: Brothers Flip Scripts to Pursue Screenwriting
Brothers VJ Boyd BA'02 (left) and Justin Boyd BA'06 are pursuing entertainment careers in Hollywood.
Growing up in Richardson, VJ Boyd BA’02 dreamed of being a screenwriter, crafting his first screenplay at age 16.
“I did make many short films as a teenager and in college, but none of them were technically sound,” he said. “The writing was decent, but I had little skill or help in the camera and lighting departments.”
Now, after a stint in corporate sales, VJ is living the Hollywood dream, penning scripts and producing episodes for a variety of shows including the award-winning series Justified, which aired over six seasons on FX. His brother, Justin Boyd BA’06, left a university post teaching philosophy to join him in California two years ago and now writes for SyFy’s Channel Zero.
The two frequently see movies or meet at coffee shops and write together, whether on their new comic book, “Night Moves,” or on separate projects. While Justin is prepping for future installments of Channel Zero, VJ is working as a co-executive producer on CBS’ S.W.A.T., a remake of the 1970s TV show of the same name. (Their sister, April, is a current UT Dallas student.)
“I imagined both of us working out here, but I didn’t know if it was a realistic idea. It was one of those things you think, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be awesome?’” Justin said. “It really wasn’t until shortly before I made the decision to also come out here that I thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is actually a possibility. We both loved film and television growing up — wouldn’t it be cool to create that stuff?’”
Chasing the Dream(s)
That’s when he took a fiction-writing workshop and a scriptwriting course with then-School of Arts and Humanities lecturer Tony Daniel, a Hugo Award finalist for his short story “Life on the Moon.”
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It was Daniel who planted the seed in VJ’s — and later Justin’s — mind about pursuing a career as a TV writer. The process isn’t complicated: move to LA; join a TV show as a writing staff assistant — “that is, a coffee-getter and note-taker,” Daniel clarified — and write. Then write some more. Followed by more writing.
“From there, you work your way up,” Daniel said. “VJ followed my advice to a ‘T.’ It didn’t hurt that he is incredibly hardworking, proactive and generally a nice guy, of course.”
VJ relocated to Los Angeles in May 2008, and within a month got an assistant job on the series The Beast, one of the final projects of actor Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009.
After working as an assistant on several shows, VJ landed a gig on Justified, a Western-type saga with a modern spin that aired from 2010 to 2015. His break had arrived. Hired as a writer for the show’s second season, he moved to producing duties by the series' end.
As an admirer of classic crime noir and science fiction films, VJ dreams of one day writing in one of those genres. It just so happens that’s exactly what Justin does on Channel Zero, a sci-fi/horror anthology series. “I’m jealous sometimes that he gets to make up all this crazy stuff,” VJ said. “He can pitch giant flies in his episodes.”
When he was an undergraduate at UTD, Justin almost racked up more hours playing pool in the Student Union than in class. His passion for pool would later pay dividends.
“The script that got me hired by Channel Zero was about the pool scene in Texas,” said Justin, who earned an economics degree in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
While working full time, he took evening graduate classes at UT Dallas including a screenwriting class with Daniel and courses with Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of creative writing in the School of Arts and Humanities.
“I knew I could do it (screenwriting) and I enjoyed doing it, but I wasn’t sure I was good enough to do it professionally,” Justin recalled. “I was also committed to being an academic.”
Justin eventually moved to Chicago, ending his hiatus from studies to earn a master’s degree from DePaul University in 2012. During a stint teaching philosophy at DePaul while working on a doctorate, Justin got the itch to try his hand at TV writing like his brother. So, in May 2016, he moved out West.
He got a job as a writer’s production assistant — “the lowest rung in the writers’ room” — on the FX show Snowfall the month he arrived. That job lasted until the end of the year when his script about the Texas pool scene landed into the hands of Nick Antosca, showrunner for Channel Zero.
“I always tell Justin, ‘Man, don’t tell anyone you got lucky enough to write on a show as soon as you came out here,’” VJ said. “He’s only been out here a year or so, but thus far it’s been great. We haven’t lived in the same city in a decade.”
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