Part of our mission here at Daily Fuel has been to illuminate life and early career insights for our readers. As part of that continuing purpose, we're excited to announce our new blogger, Christian Zilko, will be providing first-person accounts into one young professional's journey. Enjoy.

The Comeback

As some of you may remember, I’m currently the creator and showrunner of Ratio, a new political sitcom on the largest student-run television production company in America. And if you don’t remember, that’s totally fine, because I’ll be promoting it on here like no tomorrow for the next few months. So if you don’t know it now, you definitely will (my apologies in advance).

The show, which I like to elevator pitch as “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but in Washington D.C.” is a testament to my love of laughing at political minutia. It’s filled with references to obscure journalists, Twitter trolls, and minor news stories from 2017 about Starburst being served at the White House. In short, it’s like a time capsule that captures everything I find funny at this point in my life.

But more than that, it represents the end of a challenging personal journey, something that I didn’t fully realize until the last few days.

Ratio is my second time selling a script to this network, but the only one that will end up being fully produced. The first script was an ill-fated idea for a Christmas Special, written in the spring of my freshman year with the intention of filming in the fall of my sophomore year.

It was an exciting concept, even if the actual script was just adequate, and I’m very good at pitching. The network was extremely excited by the idea, and gave me an extremely large budget (by their standards), and a prime slot in their lineup. I was ecstatic.

There was only one problem.

The guy I had enlisted to write it with me, and play the lead role, ended up being a total creep. He had a bad reputation for being unprofessional on other film projects, and for burning through friends quickly. I had been warned of this, but I thought nothing of it, because I liked him personally.

But as is often the case with those kinds of warnings, they ended up being completely true. Once pre-production started, he was an absolute disaster. But worse than that, his personal reputation was so bad that nobody wanted to work on the project, as long as he was associated with it. Which is a rarity, at an entertainment college. But you can’t make a movie without actors or a crew, so the project ended up falling through, and became a black mark on my resume.

I’m certainly not trying to avoid blame, because I deserve a lot of it. I didn’t vet my partner carefully enough, and I vouched for someone whose behavior would end up ruining the entire film. That’s my fault, and I paid a price for it.

I had to lie low in the student film scene for a couple of semesters, until enough people forgot about my failure. And when I finally came back and pitched Ratio, I was humbled. I focused on the writing, rather than the flashy bells and whistles, and I asked for a much smaller budget (less than 10% of what I had last time). I took nothing for granted, and have obsessed over every detail of the execution process, determined to avoid a repeat of last time.

And it’s worked. This show has gone off without a hitch so far (knock on wood), it seems like I’m back in the good graces of the network’s management, and we’re already talking about bigger projects I can work on next year. It’s a great feeling, and more importantly, I feel like I’ve taught myself how to bounce back from failure. If I ever find myself reeling from a cancelled series or a box office flop when I’m in Hollywood, I’ll know that I’m capable of manufacturing a comeback.

When you’re looking to rebuild your personal brand after a mistake, it helps to focus on the process. Keep your head down, deliver a much better product than you ever have before, and do it for less money than anyone else will. It seems like a pretty solid formula, and it’s certainly worked for me.

Christian Zilko

Guest Blogger:

Christian Zilko

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Any good comeback needs some true believers.
— John Boehner
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