Interview with Jeane Wong Part 1: The Thin Line

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by Kathryn Graham

Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line!

What is The Thin Line about?

It’s a revisionist history pilot in modern day America where segregation still exists. It centers on two brothers. One is in a violent civil rights group, and the other lives his life outside of politics. He’s recruited by the FBI to investigate his brother’s political activities. It’s a family drama. There’s a crime element. There’s a very subtle grounded sci-fi element.

Sort of like Man in the High Castle?

I love Philip K. Dick. Every time I travel to a new city, I always buy a Philip K. Dick book to read. He’s definitely one of my top five authors. I had this idea before that show was announced publicly. It’s fortuitous that revisionist history hasn’t been overdone yet, that I know of.

Have you pitched before this?

Formally, no. I only pitched a feature twice. It was completely brand new. I’ve pitched informally in a writer’s room, but in terms of my own show and doing a formal pitch, no. A lot of times those sorts of meetings don’t really happen for newbies. There’s not a lot of people who go out and sell pilots without ever having been staffed. I guess I did it in reverse.

My two really good friends, a comedian writer friend of mine, Lisa, and writer friend of mine, LaToya, we met up. I literally had two days to put together the pitch, and it was my last week at work. So I asked one of my coworkers, Ben, what his process was.

Then I met up with those two friends the night before the pitch, and I practiced it with them. I didn’t have it formed out yet. I had three different beginnings, and I wasn’t sure which one to use. I went through the different versions with them, and they told me which one they liked. I didn’t have a pitch until maybe 11pm the night before, and then I pitched it 10am the next morning. I memorized as much as I could and riffed.

I’m not someone who memorizes everything. I figure out what the points I need to get to are and then improv the rest. Everyone has different styles. Some people memorize every um and ahh. I’m a mix of both.

How well did you know the story before you went in to pitch?

I had already written the full pilot, and I had also written a comic book that was a prequel to the pilot that fleshed out the main character’s backstory. I knew it very well. I’ve re-broken and reworked it when I signed with my manager. It was my main sample that went out.

I had a lot of answers already in my head about story direction and characters. I had pitched the season and even a couple seasons down the line where I saw the character arcs. I would say I knew it well which probably helped in terms of pitching it.

What happens now?

It was purchased by the studio. Basically it’s in development at the studio. They’re employing me to develop it with them and rewrite. I hope it gets packaged with the right showrunner and taken to the network. There’s so many steps along the way. Lightning has to strike several more times, but you never know in this town.

What’s the best advice you ever got in terms of TV writing?

This is definitely a ‘next level’ piece of advice. Recently when I sold my pilot, I was talking to my friend who had also sold a pilot as an assistant. The best advice he gave me was so counter-intuitive that it blew my mind. So much about being in the industry is about being proactive, taking initiative, putting yourself out there.

He said: when you’re in the middle of negotiations for your deal, don’t pester your lawyer or seem impatient. Give them the time to get you the best numbers. It blew my mind because he was saying not to do anything and not to be proactive. With your lawyer be hands off. Let them get the best numbers. You don’t want them to close too early. The truth is lawyers are negotiating twenty deals at the same time. They’ll be like ‘okay I’ll wrap this one up and go on to the next thing’.

Is there a possibility of you working on The Thin Line once it’s been picked up?

I’m involved in it at an upper level.

One of the things I’m learning is just to enjoy the ride. As long as I’m still on the ride, I’m just going to enjoy it. I have no expectations. Anything could happen, but I’m hoping for the best. It’s the best outlook during this process. Although the end goal is the show’s creation, I try to think about the step that’s next. Whether it’s the next meeting or next call I have to take.

It’s more manageable to look at it as all of these small steps to conquer and challenge. The big picture’s always in the back of my head, but I try to think of the other little things I have to do first.

TOMORROW: PART TWO


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

About Kathryn Graham

Los Angeles-based television writer, TVWriter Contributing Editor, and lover of women. e-mail: kathrynagraham@gmail.com