Comiccon came and went, and my body is still paying the price. Between the miles of convention floor walking, the nights out with friends, and the days shuffling around the Gas Lamp District, it’s safe to say I’m ready to take a 360-day vacation from SDCC. A few things I learned this year:

  • My friend Shawn has a lovely singing voice.
  • Moscow Mules could be the greatest thing ever.
  • Married dudes love talking about all the women they’d be hooking up with if they were single. (AKA Hypothetical Player Syndrome)
  • Weird Al has recorded about 123,847,844 songs and I’ve now heard every one of them.
  • The mere presence of Meagan Fox is enough to sap the cool out of me and my entire group of friends.
  • The Rock’s greatest one-liner could be “Fucking centaurs.”

So, on to the scavenger hunt. Thanks to all who submitted ideas through twitter, the blog, FB, etc. It definitely helped get me onto the convention floor more, so I’ll be doing it again next year. There are a few I couldn’t post here because apparently videos are a pain in the ass, but here are the rest:

@VernaVernisa asked me to find someone with a kilt, fedora, and katana. Couldn’t find anyone with all three, but here’s a random guy in a true kilt:

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Had a few people ask me to find cosplay from Watchmen, and I was determined not to run to the Rorschach well. I think this guy nailed it as The Comedian.

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“Find Kevin Conroy.”

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“Find Jar Jar Binks.” – I had fun with this one.

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“Find Deadpool.” I wish I could post the video I tweeted of the Deadpool dance-off. Trust me on this one – it was awesome.

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“Find a cast member from The Avengers.” Here they are! Yep, gaze upon the splendor of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Sammy L! (cut me some slack on this one!)

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“Find the Insomniacs.” Here’s Mr. Ryan Schneider at the Sunset Overdrive area.

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“Find Troy Baker.” Found him. And his hair was magnificent as usual.

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These weren’t on the scavenger hunt but I thought they were worth sharing.

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To the follower who asked me to get Ken Levine’s thoughts on seamonkeys, he decided not to attend the show because of something he called a “deadline.” He must be writing some little indie movie or something. But fear not! I reached out to him anyway, so I’ll post whatever response he provides.

Thanks all!


Hey Friends,

Every year for the past five years I’ve gone to SDCC, and every year I leave feeling like I haven’t seen enough. While everyone who’s been to Comic Con will tell you that it’s an outrageous, entertaining experience, they’ll likely follow that up with “and I had to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.”

The reaction is a natural byproduct of the convention atmosphere: too many people, too much heat, and too many booths and vendors vying for our attention. It’s a 24/7 assault on the senses, and it gets a bit overwhelming – especially when a good third of the attendees have been in the same cosplay for three days straight in 90 degree weather. Do you know what a wookie costume smells like after three days in San Diego? I do. And I still shudder at the memory.

In order to encourage myself to explore as much of the convention as possible, I decided it would be fun to try a scavenger hunt. The idea is simple: you give me stuff to look for, and I’ll find it at the convention and post photographic evidence to my blog when I get back. This doesn’t have to be something in the convention hall itself. It can be anything comiccon-related:

  • Cosplay
  • VO actors
  • Video game professionals
  • Celebrities (not Chevy Chase – long story)
  • Swag/Memorabilia
  • Panels

…or anything I haven’t thought of that won’t get me thrown in jail. If I get enough suggestions, I’ll post the list to my blog and do my best to get as many of them as possible. And if you happen to be going to the Con, please feel free to join in!

Add your ideas in the comment section here, and share with whoever you like!


The Men Who Kill

Posted: April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

Hey Folks,

As you might remember, I left Insomniac Games last July to focus on features. Back then I was sure working out of my house every day would cause some kind of psychotic break. I was equally sure said break would occur within the first six months. You can imagine how pleasantly surprised I am to find myself in late April without a tin foil hat, or men with giant butterfly nets knocking on my door. And even better – there are new projects on the horizon.

In early December I had an idea for a new action movie I call “The Men Who Kill.” Well, after a lot of work and some nerve-racking pitches, it sold to FOX last week. I can’t get into the plot just yet, but I can tell you I’m incredibly excited about it. If you care to check out the press release, you can find it here:

I’m excited to have Michael B. Jordan on board for the pic. I’ve been a big fan of his since The Wire, and he’s going to crush this role. Looking forward to telling you more about it. In the meantime, I should probably get to writing this thing!

Until next time!


Hey All,

Below are some of the questions I received through Twitter and the blog. Thanks to all who submitted. I hope to do more of these soon!

– TJ

Kevin Johnson (@kjohnson1585) Question! I’m heading to LA for a few lunches. Any advice on how on (sic) to talk about writing and perhaps seeing an agent? Thanks!

The agent question is one that gets asked a lot, and for good reason – they’re notoriously tough to get. If you aren’t yet established in some form (unpublished, unproduced, etc.) it’ll naturally be tougher. Most agencies don’t take cold calls or walk-ins, and doing so will tip your hand that you’re a newbie—after all, they’ve heard every pitch, line, and excuse from writers trying to make it past the switchboard. If you must, I’d recommend smaller boutique agencies. They’re the ones who are typically more willing to engage a new writer. However, if you are meeting an agent, it’s usually because they’ve already read your stuff and actively sought you out. 

The best way to get an agent’s attention is to submit your screenplay to a screenwriting competition. If it’s reputable, the judges will be everyone from agents to producers and studio execs. Everyone you need to see your script will see it, and it’ll be passed around town to other industry players. If it’s solid, you’ll get a call!

Joey Shiraef (@Jos33phus) Would you say writing scripts for games is more challenging than for film?

Both have their own sets of challenges. Video games may have more technical hurdles (animation time, rendering limitations, the mercurial nature of game development), but film isn’t without its own challenges. There may be far less content in a two-hour movie than an eight-hour game, but there are endless rewrites and budget constraints that will keep you on your toes.

Blain Howard (@Blainh) Why are you so handsome?!

Good genes and an accent that only adds more effervescence to my warm northeastern allure.

Donald Tonello (@DonaldT_32) Any new projects you’re working on that you can talk about?

I can’t confirm anything just yet, but 2014 is going to be really exciting. I’m working on a few new features, and I have a graphic novel concept I’m keen to develop in the coming months. It’s all a matter of scheduling, but I have plenty of new projects to keep me occupied for a while. Hopefully I can share more in early 2014!

 Tim V (submitted through the blog)

How is writing influenced by the fact that the end output is a game with distinct levels rather than a continuous story? What difficulties emerge?

For this one I’ll direct you to an earlier blog entry titled “Why Screenwriters Fail at Screenwriting.” This should give you an idea of the challenges game writers face.

What were the challenges in writing the R&C movie given that it’s based on the origin story told in the original game?

Writing an origin story is challenging because you want to honor the canon originally explored by the source material, but you also want to make the story work for a different medium. What worked for one medium doesn’t always work for another, so I try to target the DNA of the franchise. Meaning, how do fans identify the universe? Do the characters and humor feel consistent with the Ratchet & Clank games? I hold onto this DNA tightly, and for the smaller mythology points, I learn to let go. For instance, Dr. Nefarious may not have been in the first Ratchet game, but for the movie, I had an idea for him I felt made the story more enjoyable. At the end of the day, our goal is to simply make the best movie possible for established audiences and new ones – and having Neffy in the movie just made sense regardless of how events shook out the first go-round.

Who was your favourite character to write for, and why?

It’s a tie between Captain Qwark (Ratchet & Clank) and The Joker (Legends of the Dark Knight: A Game to Die For). Obviously, the two couldn’t be any more different. Qwark is a lovable schlub while The Joker is a murderous madman, but each one exercised a different part of my brain and made me a better writer.

It was you who made Dalton afraid of cats, wasn’t it?

 Dalton isn’t afraid of them – he just hates them. Like me. So, yep. :)

Call for Questions!

Posted: December 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

Hey Everyone,

I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and I apologize. Now that projects are reaching various stages of completion I’ll have more time to contribute to this blog. Therefore I thought it would be fun to answer some questions! Do you have a question about game, feature, or graphic novel writing? Submit them here, in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Thanks, and happy holidays!


The Insomniac Gamatorium

Posted: October 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Hey Guys,

More to come very soon (sorry I have been MIA – deadlines ALL. THE. TIME.), but I wanted to pass along the very last thing I wrote for Insomniac. It’s a piece called “The Insomniac Gamatorium.” What’s pretty cool about this video is the pace at which is was made. The original script was written and approved in two days, but people dug it so much we ended up getting out-of-house production support that allowed us to do even more. This also meant I had to rewrite the entire script WHILE it was being filmed, but hey, I think it was worth the work.

For those of you who haven’t seen the trailer yet, it can be found below. My favorite thing about this game – I wrote in a bit that used “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chun, thinking it would be placeholder until we got a song we could actually secure the rights to. But Shaun McCabe went to bat and snagged it for us!

Written 7/17/2013

It’s 4:43 AM and I can’t sleep. It’s a mixture of fear and excitement and now, since I’ve accepted my fate, a cup of French Vanilla coffee. I haven’t felt this way in seven years, so I guess it’s only fitting I bookend this chapter of my life with insomnia. Anyway, by now you’ve read the title of this blog so let’s get to it: 

After seven years and nine games, I’m leaving Insomniac. 

At one time, a few years back, I told myself I was a video game lifer. There was no future I could see in which I would not be an Insomniac. This is a studio that allowed me to break the space-time continuum and ravage post-apocalyptic Chicago. It allowed me to write for Captain Qwark and record dirty pirate songs. It sent me to PAX, where a fan ran up to me quoting Orvus because his cheesy jokes made her smile during a dark time in her life. These are the kinds of moments that stay with you forever and make you grateful for every second of it—even the rough times during crunch when it’s midnight and you still have 50 bugs in Devtrack. For all of those experiences, I’ll be eternally grateful.

When I came to Insomniac, I was a newbie in Los Angeles who had never worked as an in-house writer before. Insomniac taught me about game writing, voice recording, and the video game pipeline. At the same time, I was writing feature scripts on the side (it’s a good way to cleanse the palette when Captain Qwark’s voice is stuck in your head). Finally, just this past year, I had the privilege of jumping into the feature world with One Night on the Hudson and the Ratchet & Clank movie. Despite the rewrite deadlines, story meetings, and note sessions, I told myself I could manage the workload—all while working on two games in simultaneous production on opposite ends of the country (And you wondered why I had all those energy drinks by my desk!).

Recently, I was offered a feature assignment at Disney, at which point thirteen-year-old TJ reached through a time vortex to high-five me and ask why I still wear the same Mighty Mighty Bosstones shirt. I knew at this point I had taken on too much work for any one person, but I was having trouble pulling the trigger. The studio meant a lot to me, and had been my second home ever since I came to LA looking to build a career as a screenwriter.

Then, as if fate had noticed I was having a difficult time leaping, my phone rang again. It was my manager, telling me I’d sold another script to New Line. Two projects, two days. And more projects rolling in. Now I’m tallying up hours in the day and figuring out how I’d be able to get my pages done on time, and it became immediately clear it was time to make the leap.

To be offered the opportunity to craft a story, in any medium, is a privilege.  There is no hierarchy of relevance when it comes to art. Other than the aforementioned scheduling gymnastics, my moving on is about searching for a new challenge. I can look at my time at Insomniac and feel like I’ve done what I set out to do there. As for other mediums, I feel like I’m just getting started. I’m excited by movies and television. I want to get back into graphic novel writing. I want to develop different projects with new characters and stories and worlds I can explore. Right now I have the opportunity to try all of it, and when you’re handed a gift like that, you have to grab onto it with both hands.

So why does the title say “sort of”? Because my relationship with Insomniac and the Ratchet & Clank franchise will continue. As a producer and writer on the movie, I will still be helping to shepherd Ratchet & Clank into the feature world. I’ve also made sure the North Carolina studio has everything they need to finish Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, a truly awesome game I hope you all love. My relationship with Insomniac will continue, as will my involvement with the video game industry. How it will all coalesce is something I’ll work out along the way, but I could never abandon the industry that has given me so much.

For those of you who have supported me as a game writer, I hope you stick around and support me through the next phase of my career. At the risk of sounding cliché, I couldn’t do it without you. Thank you for the supportive tweets, the fan mail, and the encouraging feedback on the forums. It’s rare that writers earn such a loyal following, so know that I don’t take a single one of you for granted.

And with that, I’m off to begin life as a free agent. I’ll post more here as I can, and will stay active on Twitter. Can’t wait to show you what I have cooking up!