When it came time for Quentin Schaffer to attend high school, his parents opted to send him to a boarding school a few hours away from his Connecticut home. A self-admitted scrawny kid, Schaffer was bullied and decided to write a book about the experience. When his tormentors happened to find the pages, they tore them up, warning him to never write about them again. “I was amazed that my story was so threatening to them. It stuck in my head that, you know, there’s something to this,” he said.
He not only realized the power of writing, but also how those same experiences can make great fodder for a story. After a long career in entertainment public relations, overseeing the publicity for all the shows on HBO, Schaffer is now in the second act of his career — as a writer. He tapped into these childhood memories in a young adult novel, published earlier this year.
The novel, Gods of Sound: The Perilous Path of Cameron Foster, tells the story of a bullied 10-year-old boy who is incredibly gifted on the guitar which empowers him beyond his wildest expectations. “I’ve always been fascinated with the outcasts, loners and underdogs,” Schaffer said. His love of music was another driving force behind the story.
Schaffer, who graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, was initially accepted into USC School of Cinematic Arts film program. “For a film major, though, I was less interested in all the production and direction and editing — and more interested in the writing,” he said. “I started working for the Daily Trojan as an entertainment editor, where I even got to cover the Oscars.” By sophomore year, his passion for writing had him switch to USC Annenberg.
Though he majored in journalism and continued writing for the Daily Trojan throughout his years, he does recall enjoying a public relations class where he had to pick a product or service to sell. “I thought, ‘What’s the hardest thing to sell in PR?’ And realized it’s probably death,” he said. “So, I did my whole piece on Forest Lawn Memorial Park. It was a fun challenge.”
After graduation, Schaffer took his flair for public relations to PR agency Solters and Roskin, writing press releases for the circus. He soon moved to WABC-TV, also working in the public relations department. In 1980, he joined HBO. Schaffer quickly moved up the ranks from manager to director, VP and SVP of media and talent relations and then in 2008, executive vice president of corporate communications. “I was overseeing everything from The Sopranos and Sex and the City to Game of Thrones and John Oliver,” he said. “It was just a phenomenal experience.”
Because paying for TV was not the norm in those early days, Schaffer had to devise innovative ways to promote these new series to the public. In 1997, for the premiere of Sex and the City, he suggested doing a screening in New York City. “My boss told me, ‘No one's going to want to go to a screening for a TV series,” he said. And I said, ‘Well, you know, they’re following Candace Bushnell’s New York Observer column, we don’t have to make it that big. We can do it for 200 people.’ The evening was a big hit.” That success continued when The Sopranos began in 1999. “What started as a 200-person screening ended up — over the years — to grow to more than 4,000 guests, including people like Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards.” he said. “And now every network does these big events for their shows.”
During his tenure at HBO, Schaffer made time to mentor USC Annenberg students and speak at the school. He is also on the USC Annenberg Alumni Advisory Board and was pivotal in shepherding the USC Annenberg/HBO Diverse Voices series. Starting in 2017, Schaffer brought top talent to the school, such as David Simon, writer and producer of The Wire, actors Jeffrey Wright, Issa Rae and Mahershala Ali among others, giving students the opportunity to listen to and interact with these artists about their work. He received a USC Tommy Award in 2018 for outstanding achievements for the university.
When he left HBO in late 2019, Schaffer decided to give writing a shot full time. He has since developed an animated series, written several scripts and finished the young adult novel. “I knew this was the one chance to do this and I had a million ideas,” he said.
Having spent a career creating campaigns and dealing with crises (including the coffee cup accidentally left on the set in the final season of Game of Thrones), Schaffer is happy sitting in his home office creating new characters and stories.
“Having written this novel made me identify with Taylor Swift who said ‘If you’re horrible to me, I’m going to write a song about it and you’re not going to like it. That’s how I operate.’ Oh, I so love the power of writing,” Schaffer said.