Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With SCANDAL’s Raamla Mohamed – Part Two

A series of interviews with hard-working writers
– by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.

Writer Raamla Mohamed’s career is a prime example of what can happen when a person puts in the hard work to make the most of every opportunity. After attending grad school at USC, Raamla landed a job as a writers’ PA on GREY’S ANATOMY. She went on to become a researcher on OFF THE MAP and SCANDAL. Selection to the Disney-ABC Writing Program got her a writing position on SCANDAL where she has risen from staff writer to producer. She was also a writer on the upcoming ShondaLand show STILL STAR-CROSSED.

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET REPRESENTATION?

I had written the SHAMELESS spec and I asked one of the writers on GREY’S ANATOMY to read it. I just wanted to get notes, because I knew I’d be submitting it to Disney as my second sample if they needed it. I had heard that if they asked you for it, they wanted it immediately. I learned from my mistake before of not being prepared, so I asked if he’d give me some notes. He did and he really liked the script. He started telling other writers that I wrote a good script, so Jenna wanted to read it. She read it and then she passed it on to her agent who then became my agent. I was already working in ShondaLand. I had good referrals. I had gotten into the Disney Program by the time all that happened, so I think I was in a better place to choose the agency I wanted to go with. I love UTA. I’ve been with them since the beginning.

I don’t have a manager. I don’t have anything against managers in general. I believe you connect with people and my agents are great. I think you should have representation who believes in your writing, whether it’s an agent or manager, someone who is really going to fight for you.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

There’s always a writer on set and sometimes you have to cover for other writers. I had to cover and I was very nervous, because it was the director, and directors have different personalities. You have to stand up for yourself. You have to talk to the actors and explain stuff if they don’t understand it.

Someone said to me, “I promise you, you’ll know when it’s wrong.” Like you don’t have to worry about is this okay. You’ll see it. As a writer, as someone who’s been in the room, as someone who knows how it should go, you will know. Obviously you don’t always get it right. There have been times where I have been wrong and I thought something was going to be horrible and it turned out fine or the other way around, but 95% of the time you’re watching it and you’re like, something’s weird. Sometimes you don’t really know exactly how to fix it, sometimes it’s about talking to the director and they can figure out okay, yeah, I think I can see that and get you what you want. But that was very helpful because it kind of is an instinct thing.

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR TAKING MEETINGS?

When I take any meeting, I watch the news that morning so that I know what’s happening that day. I watch MSNBC or GOOD MORNING AMERICA just to get highlights of what’s going on. A lot of times in the ten minutes or five minutes in the small talk portion of the meeting, it really helps out. It helps out either way. If they didn’t see something, and it’s not necessarily getting into politics or whatever, but it could be a YouTube or general thing. Either they don’t know about it or they didn’t see it and you’re informing them or they want your opinion on something. It eases the banter. Also it makes you seem like a well-informed human being.

The other thing is that when you have a meeting with anyone, being normal goes a long way. People like someone who feels comfortable. You can relax. It’s a long day to be in the same room with people. You want people who are fun and interesting. That’s kind of what they’re looking for. They’ve read your sample and you’re sitting down in a meeting, so obviously they like your writing enough to bring you in. So you’re good. You’re fine. They’re basically meeting to see if you are someone they want to be around for 8 hours.

AS A WRITER, WHO INSPIRES YOU?

People like Donald Glover, Issa Rae, Lena Dunham. People who have an idea, they act in it, they write, they have a vision. It’s not always perfect, but they go for it and they push the envelope. They have a clear point of view. I find that so cool.

I’m always impressed when I watch something and I’m like how did they come up with that. How did they think of that? There is a really cool new wave of people coming in who are in some ways like TV auteurs who are making such great TV. People are making these 8 to 10 episode stories about lives and characters that you love.

THE PATH TO BREAKING IN.

I would say there’s not one path, which can be comforting, but also scary. I wouldn’t be afraid to go to grad school, but I wouldn’t be afraid not to go to grad school. I was someone who needed the discipline of grad school to write, so I went to grad school. You should know yourself. What do you need? If you’re someone who can work at a coffee shop and write at night and submit to festivals or you want to do your own web series, that’s a path too.

Are you someone who’s good at desk work, then go work on a desk to prove yourself. Everyone should pick the path that they think is going to get them to where they need to be in the best way possible. I have no interest in acting, but if I did, then I’d write things to act in and put them up on something. There’s a lot of ways to do it, but you have to find your thing.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Mark Goffman

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Lindsay and Mark Goffman

Lindsay and Mark Goffman

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Originally intending to be a speechwriter, Mark Goffman’s career led him to writing for a magazine in Brussels before he eventually got into the Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop as a comedy writer. Since transitioning to drama, Mark has written for THE WEST WING, LAW & ORDER: SVU, WHITE COLLAR, ELEMENTARY, LIMITLESS and SLEEPY HOLLOW. In 2014, The Hollywood Reporter named Goffman as one of the 50 most influential showrunners.

WHEN AND HOW DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I’ve always written. I didn’t know I wanted to do it professionally for a long time. I wrote a book about a monkey that went into outer space when I was five. My step-grandmother used to tell me how wonderful that story was. She was a big fan. She really pushed me in the creative arts and encouraged it.

Three days after I graduated college I moved to Brussels and decided I was going to find a job there. Luckily I got this job working at the American Chamber of Commerce for their magazine. I really liked writing about international relations and politics and I was an Economics and Philosophy major, so I thought that you could make the world a better place by fostering greater relations and economies. From there I went to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I intended to do speechwriting and I consulted for a while.

I wrote some non-fiction and short stories on the side. One of them I gave to my brother, who was the only person at the time reading my fiction. He happened to be living in New York and dating a woman who was an assistant at an agency. I think the material was left on his kitchen table and she happened to pick it up and read it, really liked it, gave it to an agent, who then gave it to an agent in LA, who gave it to a producer. I was still at the Kennedy School studying for finals and I got a call that this producer wanted to meet with me about turning this short story into a movie.

I flew out to LA and it was zero degrees when I left Boston and it was 75 when I met with this producer in Pacific Palisades. I thought wow, I can do this and the weather’s nice and I can actually make up the facts. That sounds pretty cool. So after I graduated, I worked on that script for a while. It never got made, but it got me out there and got an agent and then I got into the Warner Bros. Workshop. I was accepted into the workshop for comedy writing. I had this reaction, oh, I just came from government, I need to show that I can write anything and not just about politics, so I wrote a SEINFELD episode.

WERE THERE ANY TV SHOWS THAT INFLUENCED YOU?

There were a few. FAMILY TIES was one of the first I remember that I just loved. It was a fantastic show. There were a lot of movies that really influenced me. INDIANA JONES and STAR WARS were like magic and really fostered and inspired me to have a sense of adventure and wonder about the world. I tried to bring that to my writing.

On the non-fiction side, I’ve always been interested in politics and public policy and history and so one of the really fun things about working on SLEEPY HOLLOW, was getting to combine all of those in one show. It’s a real blend and it’s fun to rewrite history from the point of view of the supernatural.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET ASKED BY ASPIRING WRITERS?

The most common question that I get is about how to get their material into the right hands and ironically I think that’s the last thing that you need to worry about, especially when you’re first writing.

Typically great material finds its way out there. All of us from executive producers and writers to producers and development executives are starving for great material, so to find those really special scripts that move you, make you think, laugh, look at a character differently, those are the ones you remember and stay with you. You gotta be one of those scripts. Those scripts will end up in the hands of the people who need to get them, eventually.

It might take a lot longer than you think, but don’t worry as much about the process of where to get them to, because as you start to give your script out to people you trust and like, then you’ll know when the script is ready, because those people will suddenly start to offer to send it to other people.

WHAT WAS SOME OF THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT YOUR CAREER?

Don’t get too precious about any one piece of material when you’re first starting out.   Write lots of things and as soon as you finish a script, start the next one.

I think it’s also important to try different genres. I made a point early on to do at least one project a year that is well outside of my comfort zone. That resulted in a documentary about ventriloquists, a play, a novel and a short film. Each of those really helped me grow as a writer and creator of entertainment.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AS A STAFF WRITER?

My first staff job was on a half-hour comedy called ODD MAN OUT. I got that job through the Warner Bros. Writing Program. It was fun because on the one hand I was terrified. It was my first real staff job and I’d been given every piece of advice from don’t say anything for the first two months, to jump in at any point and you’ve got to feel your way because every room is different.

The truth is there are rooms where they don’t want staff writers to speak until spoken to and others where they’re supposed to be story machines and others where they’re joke machines and you just have to feel it out.

The biggest surprise was, I’d prepared and had three really good stories I was really proud of on the first day that I was going to pitch because they said to come in with something you want to write about. I pitched all three on the first day and they’re like, “Great, we really like those.” Then day two they’re like, “Okay, what do you have?” I’m like, “Oh, I had ideas yesterday.” You realize you have to be very facile and you write every day.  Learning to hone that is part of the fun and collaboration of being on staff.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS AT THE EARLY STAGES OF THEIR CAREERS?

I would say change your idea or adjust your idea of what success looks like, because it doesn’t have to be getting a script made or sold. Every script I’ve written has gotten me to where I am today because I used pieces of what I’ve learned from that experience, or met people along the way who became great friends or mentors and people who I would bounce ideas off of and that’s as important as anything else.

There were a lot of smaller steps to getting to that one big break where I finally got on THE WEST WING. Every one of those had to happen in order to get me to the next step and so a lot of the experience that I got in writing many scripts that no one should ever read, are still a part of that process.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Craig Silverstein, Part 2

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

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From making films on VHS with his middle and high school friends to being the creator of Nikita and TURN: Washington’s Spies, writer Craig Silverstein shares his experiences and insights from being a showrunner and what he looks for when hiring writers.

TELL US ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM BEING ON STAFF TO CREATING YOUR OWN SHOW.

In my case it was working my way up and learning the ropes and experiencing production, which I was very lucky to get to do and to have really encouraging showrunners.

By the end of the second season of The Invisible Man I had directed an episode. From going from just being a staff writer, I became a Co-Producer by the end of the thing and they let me direct once.   That was about the best first experience that I could have had.

From there I had kept going up and then when you do your own show, it starts with a pilot. So you have to do that. And my friend Dave, who was actually that guy from Ithaca that I drove out with, he had an idea for this thing called Town of Tomorrow and we developed it together into a pilot called, Newton, while I was working on a show called The Dead Zone.

We sold it to UPN and they picked it up as a pilot and that’s the thing that really put me into another category because the script became very well known. The pilot wasn’t good. We screwed up the pilot.

So how do you transition into that stuff? My experience is, you make mistakes. So I wrote a pilot script, figured out how to do that and then screwed up the pilot. I kind of trusted all these people who were more experienced than me to do their jobs and when they didn’t, I was kinda like, “Oh, my God.”

I had the wrong, trustful attitude going in, so in my next show, Standoff, I fixed all the mistakes and the pilot process went well, so it got picked up to series. Then I screwed up the series. The way I hired writers, the way I ran the room. Different things. It wasn’t bad, but I definitely made mistakes and I learned from those mistakes and applied them to the next thing, which was Nikita. And now I know how to run a series. That’s how it happened for me.

WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING TO HIRE A WRITER FOR YOUR STAFF, DO YOU PREFER TO READ ORIGINAL WORK OR A SPEC?

Definitely original. I want to hire someone to write like them, not like me. How they are at mimicking someone else’s voice or show is less interesting to me because I actually want something that is a little bit of outside of myself, like I wouldn’t have gone there. And so I need to see their original voice.

I also need to see how they would structure something given no parameters. You know how an episode of whatever is supposed to break out if you study it. I like to see how in their pilot or feature, they can structure. When I hired this guy, Albert Kim, for Nikita, his script that I read was a pilot called How to Cheat. It was a romantic comedy. It had nothing to do with action, spies or anything like that, but I came away going this guy knows how to structure a script and structure a scene. That’s more valuable to me. You can teach all the rest of the stuff.

BEYOND THE WRITING, WHAT ELSE MAKES A POTENTIAL STAFF WRITER STAND OUT TO YOU?

That’s a very intangible thing. For me it’s just an energy between two people. It’s sort of like if someone is going off and off and off about themselves, that’s kind of a warning sign.

I think that I can also sometimes tell now who really wants not just a job, but wants to work on this show. There is that difference and you can see it.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?

I think it is, “How did you get your start?” The thing I always say is, “Do you have your script together?” Because a surprising amount don’t have a script. They want to know where to pitch, but you have to have the paper, you have to have that. It has to be good and so it’s sort of like you have to have your sample. You have to have that original pilot or that feature. That is key because everything flows from that. It’s still all about the script.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS LOOKING TO MAKE THEIR START?

I always feel like to really love your characters and to write from your heart and your gut and not so much what you think. Don’t write with a reaction in mind, what you think someone else is going to like. There’s always going to be somebody who can come along to help you shape it and tailor it into something.

Write alone, but don’t be alone. Try to have friends and live your life because that stuff ends up creating more for your writing but also, it’s your thing to get your script around.

Didn’t read Part 1? It’s HERE


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Craig Silverstein

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

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Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Writer Craig Silverstein (TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES, NIKITA) built the foundations for his writing career back during his days at the University of Michigan where he had the great fortune to study under screenwriter Jim Burnstein (Renaissance Man, D3: The Mighty Ducks).

WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

The first time that I said I wanted to write movies was when I walked out of seeing Ghostbusters, I was ten. I think I tugged on my mom’s sleeve and said, “I want to write movies.” A couple years after that, I made some movies with my friends in middle school and high school. They were pretty elaborate for the time. We composed our scores for them and everything. It was all VHS. We edited it on decks and stuff.

HOW DID YOUR COLLEGE EXPERIENCE HELP YOU GROW AS A WRITER?

Jim Burnstein was a working Hollywood screenwriter who lived in Michigan. I think his class is the one that really changed my life and then also changed the whole film and television program at the University of Michigan. Literally, the script that I wrote in his class, is the one that I got a job off of out here. Not right away, but down the line and not even rewritten.

The school was primarily a theory and criticism kind of school, but everybody who goes to film school wants to make movies. The way they distinguished themselves is with that writing program spearheaded by Jim. The key point was that you wrote a feature length screenplay in one semester, which was not being offered anywhere at undergraduate level as far as I knew.

In this you had to write the entire thing. You had to write your outline, and learn, but you had to have a feature length screenplay done by the end of the semester. Then the most revolutionary thing he did was he had this class called Screenwriting 2. Screenwriting 2, all you did was rewrite the script you wrote in Screenwriting 1.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?

I was the assistant to these two producers, Harvey Kahn and Jonas Goodman on an independent feature called The Break Up starring Bridget Fonda and Kiefer Sutherland. It was a few months since I had arrived and I was starting to freak out. The money that I had come out with was pretty much gone. Then this guy said, “Oh, they’re looking. The producers on it are looking for somebody.” And that’s how it happens.

Actually the best job I had while trying to become a writer was I worked for Lucas Film THX in something called TAP, which is their Theater Alignment Program.   What it was, was the studios hiring TXH to check the work of the labs. Technicolor, Deluxe, whatever. They have a movie coming out. They’re producing all these reels. And the job was watching these individual reels of these movies. Literally the job was just you in a theater, at the screening rooms at the labs and a projectionist and that’s it. And you’re just watching these reels. My shift was from midnight to 8am.

WHEN DID YOUR WRITING CAREER REALLY START TO TAKE OFF?

So a friend of mine, her friend at the time was Bryan Singer’s assistant and he was prepping the first X-Men movie. She gave my script, that same script that I wrote in that class, to her high school friend who was out here too. He read it and gave it to Bryan Singer and Bryan Singer wanted to produce it.

The fact that Bryan Singer was interested in my script, even if not for him to direct, was the thing that got me an agent. By the way, the deal never came together, but the fact is for like three or four days when he was interested, I met with a few agents and I signed with one of them, at a kind of midsized agency.

Even when I signed with them it was still another year until I actually got that first writing job . During that year, I continued to get the THX shifts that I could and try to write. I did stress out and I gave myself an ulcer at a very young age, at like 24, 25, I had a flare up of ulcerative colitis.   I was in the hospital and it was a real big wake up call for me. I was fed through IV, they took me off of food.

It really ended up being a great thing because I came out of there going, “Oh wow, okay, hold on. Calm down. Maybe you’re not going to make it right away, but you definitely don’t want to be in the hospital so just calm down. Do whatever you need to do. Work at Starbucks, just keep writing your shit. Don’t set a time limit on it.” I don’t know if it’s because my mindset changed, but within 6 months I had my first writing job.

TELL US ABOUT THAT FIRST WRITING JOB.

It was from that same script. You know things kind of come around and what happened was those agents used to represent a guy, Matt Greenberg, who they were still friendly with. He was a feature writer who had started up his own television show called The Invisible Man. He had written this two hour pilot. They made it. They were going to series. He had never done TV before, so he was very comfortable reading a feature spec, which is how my script was sent to him. I got the call, it was like, “This guy has read your script. He likes it. He’d like you to come in and pitch ideas for The Invisible Man, maybe to be on staff.”

I read his script. I loved it. I came up with 6 ideas for episodes, two of which I thought were very good. I went in and I met with Matt and he was very nice and I pitched him these things and he loved these two or really one of them and said, “Look, you have no credits so I can’t hire you on staff because the positions that they were looking for were a Supervising Producer position and a Story Editor position. They couldn’t hire me as a Story Editor, having not done anything. But he said, “We’ll definitely, no matter what happens, buy that story and you can write the script or at the very least, buy the story.”

And what happened was they ended up hiring me on staff because they ended up breaking the story editor position into two term writer staff positions. Which is you’re paid scale, which was ten times more than I had ever been paid anything, but it’s a 6 week trial and it’s their option at the end of 6 weeks of what to do. If you make it through the 6 weeks, you get an additional 14 weeks.

One of the coolest things ever, was when I got the call that I was going to start on the show, it was on a Sunday, I was at Technicolor on a THX shift and I was in the theater by myself. I got this call from Matt and he said, “You know what, you’re going to start tomorrow. It’s at Universal.” And I’m like, “I’m at Universal, that’s where Technicolor is.”

On my first day as a paid writer, I pulled in to the same guest lot at Universal. The same exact spot that I had parked the day before, but instead of getting out and going left into Technicolor, I walked right, into the Universal lot and that place. I knew I had 6 weeks to prove myself and so I wrote this script and got picked up for 14 weeks and never looked back.

WHAT WAS SOME OF THE BEST ADVICE YOU GOT AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

So much I learned, I learned from the guy who ran the Invisible Man after Matt Greenberg left. David Levinson came in and became my mentor. One of the things he did was show me how you could be yourself, a very real person and still do it. You didn’t have to put on or be a certain kind of way or act a certain kind of way in order to do it.  He had stripped away so much of the politics and you know, he had a desk a computer and a phone, and he’s like, “This is all you need to run a show.”

Coming soon – more from Craig on becoming a showrunner and what he looks for when hiring writers.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Image Award Winner Sterling Anderson

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

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Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

From a start as a wine and food critic to becoming an Emmy-nominated writer, Sterling Anderson’s dedication and drive led him to being an author, writing one of the most highly rated TV movies ever (CBS’s THE SIMPLE LIFE OF NOAH DEARBORN, starring Sidney Poitier), as well as writing for The Unit, Medium and writing screenplays for Disney, HBO and Columbia Pictures.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB?

I volunteered for the first writing gig I could get and that was in the wine and food industry. I did restaurant and wine reviews for the St. Helena Star.

They ended up giving me a byline and I started doing some things on my own, like I decided I would interview the 10 top chefs in America and did an article like, “What do the 10 top chefs in America have in their refrigerator?” It was interesting because I did like Jeremiah Tower, Patrick Terrail, this little known guy named Wolfgang Puck, Mark Peel, Jonathan Waxman.

All the while I was studying film. I was reading film magazines and my goal was to write something about my experiences in the wine and food business in a novel.

TELL US ABOUT MAKING YOUR DECISION TO GET INTO SCREENWRITING.

I was in the middle of starting a winery that basically began in my garage with 50 cases and I think we went up to 1,500 cases, to 3,000 cases in less than 3 years.  I took my severance pay and went to L.A., not knowing how it was going to turn out.

I had a lot at stake, I was a divorced father, I had children. It wasn’t like I could go down there and dabble. This had to work. I know that sounds small, but really, in the grand scheme of things, I did not have the option to fail. I had children to raise, child support to pay. So I couldn’t live the life of the starving artist for very long.

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU GOT TO LA?

I actually did something very bold. I joined what’s called Sports L.A.  At the time it was a 100,000 square foot gym on Sepulveda, it was where all the stars and celebrities went to work out like Magic Johnson to Don Johnson. Everyone worked out at this place. The membership was steep. It was like $2,500 a year. But I knew if I was going to do this I was gonna put myself right in the middle of the action.

I had a couple of friends, really successful actors and I looked them up. I sort of was feeling my way around. Running out of time and running out of money and options. I ended up going to an acting school to audit this legendary acting coach named Roy London. I wanted to put myself in the center of things and I ended up being in this class that had people like Sharon Stone, Gary Shandling, Hank Azaria, Brad Pitt and my friend Michael Woods actually took me over there. I started just networking with people.

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET REPRESENTATION AS A WRITER?

I wrote a screenplay and I had a friend that was in the industry who was an agent and I sent it to him and I said, “What do you think?” And he said, “It was the worst screenplay I ever read in my life.” So I threw that screenplay out and I wrote another one and I sent it to him. And he said, “It’s very good.”

That script got in the hands of a literary manager, one of the first at the time, her name was Sharona Fae. Sharona started taking that screenplay around town and I got 4 or 5 really big agencies wanting to sign me. I got an agent. I started getting meetings right away. I went into what’s called development hell. My agents and my manager wanted to introduce me to as many people as possible. I remember I had 53 meetings in 2 months.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AS A SCREENWRITER?

I had gotten a meeting with an executive at Columbia Pictures, and he said, “I read your screenplay. It’s fantastic. I’d like to get into business with you. Is there a book you’d want to work on?” And I just pitched this idea to him and he said, “Ok, here’s $40,000, the Guild minimum and go write it.”  That was my first job. The script was called Gus. And it never got made.

WHAT DID THAT LEAD TO?

More jobs. My next big jump was I got hired by an executive at Warner Bros.  I got hired to write the Louis Armstrong story. Then I got hired to write the Dance Theater Harlem story. So I started working.

I developed a reputation of being able to fix scripts so I did a lot of rewriting. I don’t know why I had a knack for that, maybe because I was trying to fix my own screenplay and save it.

YOU HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS WITH TV MOVIES, BUT THEY WENT AWAY, WHAT DID YOU DO THEN?

With the advent of 9/11 and reality TV, movies of the week went up in smoke, disappeared. I had to reinvent myself. It was really hard because I had to go from a very successful mid-six figure writer to nothing.

My agent kept telling me, “Write a pilot, write a pilot.” And I didn’t know anything about pilots. He kept encouraging me to write a pilot and I said, “No, leave me alone.”

And then a friend of mine had created a very successful animated series called the Rugrats. Her name is Arlene Klasky and I called her and said, “Look, I’m unemployed, I’m a writer and I don’t know anything about animation, but do you have any openings for writers?” Arlene, bless her heart, she gave me some work to help me get through that really, really rough patch. She paid me to develop 3 or 4 shows for her.

In the meantime, I wrote a pilot for television and my agent sent that pilot that I wrote to a showrunner and in two weeks I was getting interviewed for a new TV show called The Unit. David Mamet.

WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

The one thing I discovered was television was a writers’ medium, and film was the directors’ medium. I learned in a hurry that as a writer you have a lot more clout in television and you don’t have any clout in film.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE TO ASPIRING WRITERS ?

So the thing that I would say now is one, be a great writer. Do all that you can to find out how good your writing is, don’t send your work out based on your grandmother read the script and liked it. Do the work.

Agents will find you. They will find you once you’re on their radar, but to get on their radar, it’s like a party that you’re not invited to. But that doesn’t mean your friend’s not invited. You can go to that party with a friend. You can go to that party because you know someone who’s catering the party. And once you get into the party, then absolutely you’re going to network and spread your wings and people are going to ask questions who you are.

You can find out more about Sterling Anderson and his new book, “Go To Script: Screenwriting Tips from a Pro” at sterlingandersonwriter.com.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Jacque Edmonds Cofer

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Jacque Edmonds Cofer

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Writer Jacque Edmonds Cofer was living in Detroit when she heard about The Disney-ABC Writers Program. Her spec for A Different World, won her a place in the program and was the starting point for her writing career that includes writing for Martin, Living Single, Moesha and creating Let’s Stay Together

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

So my first job, I guess was as part of the Walt Disney – ABC Writers Program. It was only the second year of the program. I was living in Detroit at the time. I just heard about it sort of through a fluke and applied. So I didn’t know it was competitive. I kinda thought I might be the only one applying for this thing. I wrote my first spec script and got in. It was a spec for A Different World about a student who was HIV-positive.

That was 91, something like that. There was still a lot of fear around that issue, a lot of confusion about what it really meant and the difference between HIV-positive and actually having AIDS. So the message, if there was a message, was that people don’t change just because of their health. If he’s a great guy, he’s still a great guy.

WHAT DID THE WRITING PROGRAM INVOLVE?

There were four of us on the TV side and I think about 11 feature writers. We had seminars at the Disney studio where different feature and TV writers would come and speak, a Q&A or screenings, that sort of thing.

There were a lot of pilot screenings. The sort of self-directed part of it was that you pretty much had access to the lot. And I really took advantage of that. Every day I was at a taping or a screening or something that was going on. You know, there are a lot of resources there.

So in addition to the sort of formal training in outlining and pitching and developing a script and all of that, there was the informal access to the industry. Which I think was very important because of the four of us, two of us were from the Midwest. None of us really had that insight into how things work. In addition to just sitting at your computer writing a script there’s a lot that goes on in terms of how to meet people, how to get a job, what the trends are.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER ABC?

I really started working on spec material in preparation for staffing. I did get an agent and I got my first staff job on Martin the year after the fellowship.

FROM MARTIN, WHERE DID THE PATH TAKE YOU?

I was there 3 years and had a great showrunner that first year. There were no boundaries there according to your level of writer. So from staff writer I was going to edit sessions, mix session and all that. He was like if you want to come, come. If you want to hang out while I do the first cut, come sit in my office. So that was great experience.

It allowed me to move up really quickly. I started as a staff writer, in 3 years I was supervising producer and then the next season went on to Living Single as co-exec. So it was very fast.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A STAFF WRITER?

For me, I’m always going to look at personality; how well I think that they’re going to blend in our writers’ room with the other people. They can’t be easily offended. Sitcom writers are a very offensive bunch of people. So you gotta let it go.

They can’t be too defensive or protective of their work which is pretty much a new writer issue in general. I mean, I remember being in tears over my first couple of scripts. Not because of changes per say, but because of the way it was being changed. Now with hindsight, I still of course think I was right, but I guess I now know how to write so things aren’t misinterpreted.

So personality, ability to blend in and then if they’re bringing anything unique. A unique perspective, particularly one that relates to the show.  It’s what life experience they bring to the show and this is all on top of me having read the script and saying that they’re a really good writer.

I read a script recently that was passed on to me, someone who’s just a very, very beginning writer and the script it’s kind of interesting, the characters are kind of interesting, it kind of fell apart about half-way through. But what really came through for me in the script was this writer had a really good sense of fun.

The script was very playful. It was very upbeat. She was really going for laughs. And I really like that, even though she’s not there yet, but I can see  in her writing that with some training and some experience she’ll get there. The fact that it fell apart when it did, she took a couple shortcuts. Those are rookie mistakes and those are things that can be addressed as opposed to reading a comedy script that’s just not funny, doesn’t have the laughs or just doesn’t have that spirit of fun.

DO YOU PREFER TO READ SPECS OR ORIGINAL PILOTS?

I’ll read specs of current shows, although if you’re a fan of the show, you’re a harsher judge. I would maybe be more critical. It’s kind of a double-edged sword.   If I have the opportunity, I want to see both, because if I’m hiring you, you will be doing my show and that’s really what I want to see, how they adapt to my voice.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS A WRITER?

One thing that I did have to learn is to not take it personally. You know your jokes are going to get killed, your stories are going to get changed. You can’t hold on too tightly. If you’re smart, you just put it in the file and it will show up in another script and it won’t get cut that time.

The second one was to read, write and watch as much as you can. Because particularly now, as there are so many, many different forms of entertainment and ways to deliver it.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. Find out more about her HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With EMPIRE’s Wendy Calhoun

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.

DedWendy-Calhoun-200x300ication and persistence were the keys for writer Wendy Calhoun as she made the transition from documentary and reality to scripted drama with stops at Justified, Revenge and Nashville on her way to becoming the Co-Executive Producer at Empire.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I first knew when I was a sophomore in high school. I attended a performing arts high school in Dallas, TX. At that high school we had a playwriting class and my sophomore year I signed up for the class, wrote a play and it got produced. I got to see my words come to life on stage and I was hooked.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?

The first industry job came many years before the first writing job. I assisted a television agent and a feature film literary agent. I thought it was a great way just to be exposed to a lot of scripts. That’s what everyone told me. You want to read a lot, get on a lit agent desk, you’ll learn the whole lay of the land in Hollywood.

That led to about five years of being a Hollywood assistant. I skipped all around town. I went from there to working in development over at Disney. I worked at Sony Pictures for many years. Then I ended up working for Tim Burton.

I went on and got a job as an assistant to two executives at Village Roadshow Pictures. I ran the meetings and was in charge of all the scripts, kind of like a story coordinator. And finally they promoted me, so I became the Director of Creative Affairs there and I actually got to be the one giving the notes to the writers, which was interesting.

HOW DID YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB COME ABOUT?

It was the guys at Village who knew I was a writer, that offered me my first job.  They made me the head writer of a 52 half-hour series they had for Animal Planet. That was in 1999, that was my first television writing job. And from there, that led to like 7 years of writing documentaries and reality, but you know, that long path to get to that point actually paid off.

TELL US ABOUT MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM DOCUMENTARY TO SCRIPTED DRAMA.

It took about five years to make the transition. So while I was doing all the documentary shows and stuff, I was writing scripts when I wasn’t working. I was going out on meetings after meetings after meetings, dying of encouragement. People telling me, “Oh, your script’s really good,” and then not hiring me.

It was hard because there was a stigma, especially when I started doing reality stuff. When I was just, Animal Planet, Discovery, people are kinda cool about that but when you start telling them you’re doing some TLC and Hell’s Kitchen, they’re suddenly like that’s the end. Especially at that time, that was the enemy because so many scripted programs were getting replaced. Scripted people were angry and they saw the reality stuff as trash and they didn’t think you’re a real storyteller. There was a stigma for sure.

For some reason the executives that I used to meet with didn’t really carry that stigma, they sort of judged me by my written words which was nice, but it was a hard jump. I know a lot of people have tried to make it and weren’t able. It was by the grace of God that I made it. I think , for me, it was just a matter of persistence.

And honestly, when I had my interview that got me my first scripted job, I didn’t care anymore. I was done. I had been through the wringer. Five years of getting so close and not getting it.  And I was very happy at Hell’s Kitchen. I was doing good work, I was directing in the field. I was having a blast.

This meeting came along and I was in the middle of working on the finale and the last thing I wanted to do was leave the edit room and go do yet another meeting for disappointment. Sure enough I got the job offer, and I remember the guy who hired me is Peter Noah. He’s a great guy. This was called Raines and it starred Jeff Goldblum and that’s where I met Graham Yost and Peter Noah was on it.

Really, really great group of writers, actually Moira Walley-Beckett, who won the Emmy for Breaking Bad and Jennifer Cecil, who’s got a go pilot right now at ABC, and Bruce Rasmussen, who had done tons of comedy and was last on Dallas. I mean it was just a fine group of writers.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

I’m a bit of a dabbler. Like I’m that person that goes to the buffet and wants a little taste of everything, but not a full plate of anything. So as a writer when I was first starting out, especially while I was still doing documentary stuff, I was trying to be the jack-of-all-trades. I wanted to have every type of spec you could imagine so I could show everyone I could do it all.

But you really are a master of none. That’s the truth, so the piece of advice that was given to me was master something. Be an expert at something and in television writing that means within a genre.

So I started thinking about well, what do I really like. I happened to be doing a reality series for TLC called Ballroom Bootcamp where I spent about 6 weeks following a woman who was a real life CSI. And I always liked cops and I always like reading books about criminals and law enforcement and you know, I took a class and they were talking about the staples of television, that’s medical, legal and cop drama. So I thought well, okay, I’m going to focus on just writing cops.

And then I started doing a lot of research on cops so that I could tailor my spec and I just kept doing it and digging in and digging in, trying to make myself an expert in that field. So by the time I did go into that Raines room, I was the one taking people down to the lab because I had my friend there. I had already shot there.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

Go sign yourself up for UCB, go sign yourself up for Second City, go sign yourself up for Groundlings, go take a class and make yourself get up and tell story in a way that requires you to listen and interact and it’s going to scare the pants out of you, but you need that. That way when you get ready to walk in that room for that job that you know you want more than anything in the world, you don’t care, you’ve been swinging without a net because you’re been taking these classes.

I’m telling you, it’s some of the best training and most writers need to do it. It gets you out of your head. I swear by it.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. Find out more about her HERE.