Jonathan Butler, who served as a writer/Executive Producer on The CW’s The Flash chatted about his time on the hit show.

Before becoming a writer and executive producer of CW’s The Flash, Jonathan Butler led a very different life. Courageous Nerd caught up with Jonathan to discuss his journey to where he is now, The Flash coming to and much more.

Note: This interview has been condensed for length and clarity. You can watch the full conversation on the Courageous Nerd YouTube channel, which is linked below.

You most recently worked on The Flash, who/ what made you want to become a writer and more specifically, a television writer?

Jonathan Butler: It’s a bit of an interesting, slightly different story than most writers’ pedigree. I had none of that pedigree, I was a plumber in Buffalo, New York.

So, I never went to college. Wasn’t an English major, or whatever. I was turning wrenches during the day. Then, at night, I would come home and work on these stories that I was thinking of.

At the time, I didn’t even think that I would be a screenwriter, per se. I was just working on geeky stuff and realised the gap between what I was doing for a living and what I wanted.

Statistically, it was pretty much impossible. I heard once that statistically it’s harder to enter into the WGA than it is to get into the NBA.

I wanted to learn but didn’t have the background. So, I was reading books and went to the Robert McKee seminar which many people have heard of over the decades. The main thing I did was read Robert Rodriguez’s book, Rebel Without a Crew.

I read his book and followed his pattern of, ‘only write something you have access to.’ If you want to have a Lamborghini, that’s fine, but you’re not going to be able to afford that. Use your friend’s Jaguar.

So, I did that. I shot a low budget movie in my hometown just to learn all the jobs. I wrote and directed it while trying to absorb everything. Then, I moved out to Los Angeles to do the post-production on that. That was in 2008.

During that time, I was lucky enough to get into the Nickelodeon writing program. That changed my life, that was like winning the lottery. I don’t say that as just a joke. It literally was a life-changing thing where one day I was a plumber, the next I was a writer in the writing program.

That was the beginning of everything that happened for me.

Much of your work has been with a co-writer, Gabriel Garza. How did the two of you first meet?

Jonathan Butler: I met Gabe in the writing program, actually. We were competitors, all vying for the same spots. They only took 1-4 people typically per year out of thousands of submissions. We got down to the semi-final and there were just a few of us. I think there were 4 of us.

We knew they might take all 4, they make take 1, we didn’t know.

Gabe and I always talk about the fact that both of us were wearing Star Wars t-shirts. We were like, “Well, they’re probably not going to take two of us nerds.”


It was interesting because I met Gabe in that process. We both got into the program, thankfully. Then, we immediately started pitching things at Nickelodeon together.

In a year-and-a-half, we pitched like 27 different projects. We were just so young and too dumb to know that was a lot.

Also, good advice for writers or people pitching, we also just liked to pitch. We were enthusiastic and understood that pitching is a lot of no’s. That’s the process of it. So, we knew we were probably going to get a no.

When we got a no, we would be like, “Cool! That’s fine, what can we do to get closer to the mark next time?” When [the executives who say no] saw that enthusiasm, they’re like, “Wow, I just said no to this person and they have a great attitude. I want to work with that person.”

That helped Gabe and I sell a live-action show to Nickelodeon after 27 pitches.

Having worked on more than 100 episodes of The Flash, how did you end up on the show initially?

Jonathan Butler: We did [the Nickelodeon] show for a couple of years. After that, we looked around our office – it looked like a comic-book store where nobody wanted to sell anything.

It was packed with Comic-Con art, statues and all this cool stuff. We had a rug in our office that looked like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. We were geeks and realised, “Oh, this is what we want to do, we don’t want to work in kids’ TV, that was just how we started.”

So, we took a year-and-a-half off and wrote two samples, actually. The first one was a Wonder Woman pilot that was in the style of a CW superhero show. It was a Wonder Woman as a kind-of Buffy. She was a teenager in high school and her memory was wiped. She didn’t know she was Wonder Woman.

This was in 2015-2016, before Gal Gadot or before Wonder Woman was in the zeitgeist like it is now. We wrote that to try to show them we could write a CW show.

It turned out that script eventually got to the showrunner of The Flash. The rest is history, as they say.

From Barry, to the other regulars and everyone in between, there was a wide range of characters on The Flash. Did you have a favourite character to write for?

Jonathan Butler: Over my tenure on the show… Barry’s a great character but not the most exciting to write for. The heroes usually have to toe the middle. In some ways, the fun extremes are not the hero’s job. The heroes center everything.

The first person that popped into my mind to answer your question is Cisco.

Cisco had so much humour, he was also a genius. It’s one of those things where his actual voice just jived with what I like to write. He would be one of the ones at the top of my list.

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Also, [in] my first season, the Big Bad was The Thinker. I really liked The Thinker. He was erudite, obviously super-smart, and Machiavellian. I just really loved how he played against Barry much like a Lex Luthor to a Superman.

I’m not physically your match, but mentally, I exceed you. There’s no way Superman could keep up with Lex Luthor’s mind. I loved the Fastest Man Alive vs the Fastest Mind Alive. That was one of the characters I really enjoyed writing as well.

Cisco, though, I have to say is my answer to your question.

What are some benefits/drawbacks of writing with a partner compared to writing alone?

Jonathan Butler: We became a team originally because eventually, we want to be showrunners. Showrunners pay a price.

It consumes your life. Running a show, it takes a toll on you physically. You’re in Vancouver shooting when your kid’s birthday is happening. So, we decided to be pairs and one of the benefits is you can have a life.

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I’ll be in Vancouver and you can go to your kid’s birthday. A pair or a team can do that. Another advantage we’ve noticed is that people feel comfort with teams. In terms of buying something from you or giving you a job.

I don’t know what it is. There’s a comfort that it’s two people here – there’s advantages in that regard.

Even though you’re getting half the money, you’re only doing half the work.

The downside is the money thing [a writing pair splits one pay cheque between them].

Also, sometimes and it’s not conscious, but people ‘abuse’ teams. For instance, you’re sending a writer to set. Send him to set, he’s going to do his episode of The Flash and shepherd it up there. When it comes to a team, you’re not supposed to send one of them to set and keep one in the room working.

Now, you’re getting a twofer where you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to treat them like [one writer] – send them both to set or keep them both here. Just like one human because they’re getting one paycheque. You’re doubling your money if you split them up.

When it came to crafting the end of The Flash, how much of the writers’ original ideas made the final product?

Jonathan Butler: That’s a good question. I don’t know how to quantify that because there’s so many things that are thrown out.

In general, with the pandemic, it changed the game in terms of what we were able to do. It was extremely difficult to shoot a television show, as you can imagine, with COVID-protocols. When we first started, no one in the world knew what we were going to do.

As we learned more about the disease and protocols were adjusted, we were able to do a little better. There was so much stuff we wanted to do that COVID itself said, “No. you can’t do that story or put those two people in the same room.”

It is one of those things where there’s so many factors why sometimes something makes it in or doesn’t make it in.

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What advice would you give to aspiring/future screenwriters?

Jonathan Butler: As I said, I was a plumber. It is highly unlikely you’re starting on a ladder rung lower than me. I would say that alone should give you hope that you can do it. It was ‘here to the moon’ in terms of seeing that as a possibility.

I was lucky enough to meet the muse of my life, who told me ‘you can do this.’ It allowed me to say, okay, I’m going to give it a shot.

I would say if you don’t have that muse, you can be your own muse. Do not allow youself to be denied, it’s a long road, it’s gonna be hard. I’ve heard other writers say, “I write because I can’t do anything else.’ You have to have that fire in your bones. Part of that is not falling in love with the result.

When I started screenwriting, my understanding of writing was: I write a movie and somebody gives me a briefcase with a million dollars. That was my understanding of how it worked.

I would say one of the things to focus on is just getting your foot in the door. Don’t try to be an auteur, don’t tell the world what you’re not doing. “I’m not doing that, or I don’t write those things.” Just get a job, work towards getting your foot in the door and then become an auteur.

Don’t tell the world, the universe, yourself — I’m not going to do this or that. Get a career first and then start making those decisions. Grind by writing every day, that’s the way to learn how to do the job. Read scripts and write them.

Thank you so much, Jonathan, for taking the time to chat!

Jonathan Butler: Thanks for the opportunity, I appreciate it.

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