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 SCANDAL’s Raamla Mohamed – Part One

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.

Hard work and persistence were key for writer Raamla Mohamed as she rose through the ranks from writers’ PA on GREY’S ANATOMY to researcher on OFF THE MAP and SCANDAL. Looking for a deadline to keep her writing on task, Raamla applied to and was accepted into the Disney-ABC Writing Program, which led to her becoming a staff writer on season two of SCANDAL. In addition to writing for SCANDAL, Raamla was a writer on the upcoming ShondaLand show STILL STAR-CROSSED.

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

I worked in Off-Broadway theater in New York. I was an assistant at a theater called 59E59 Theaters. It was a great experience because the theater had just opened and it had three stages, which meant there were a lot of plays coming in and out, so I met a lot of playwrights and actors. I got inspired. I wanted to write, but I didn’t really think that was a real thing a person could do to pay their student loans back.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN ENTERTAINMENT AND HOW DID YOU GET IT?

I went to grad school at USC for writing. It was a two-year program. I liked it because it was very specific to the industry I wanted to work in. You wrote, Writing the Drama Spec, Writing the Drama Pilot, Writing the Feature. That was a great experience. I learned a lot. The best thing I got out of that was that a classmate of mine worked at PRIVATE PRACTICE and heard about an opening for a PA at GREY’S ANATOMY, which I don’t think I would of heard of otherwise because a lot of times people hire people who know someone who know someone. That got me into ShondaLand, which was awesome.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE APPLYING FOR THE DISNEY-ABC WRITING PROGRAM.

On OFF THE MAP I was Jenna Bans’ assistant and she said she would be reading assistants’ materials to staff. I was stressed out about it because I realized I hadn’t written anything in so long. What happened is that she actually hired one of the assistants to be on staff. It was a great wake up call for me, because I had this opportunity that I just blew.

I started writing on the weekends and after work, just anytime I could so I could get some specs. I used the Disney program as a deadline. To be like okay, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ll write these specs and I’ll know that at least I’ll have a chance for that.

I did a MAD MEN spec. I love MAD MEN. I got some MAD MEN scripts. I knew an assistant at one of the agencies who could send them to me. I read those. The other thing I did which I found really helpful, was to go online and look at YouTube clips. There are all these fans who make clips of like Betty and Don’s greatest scenes together. It reminds you of moments and gives you ideas of what to do for your spec.

I wrote a SHAMELESS as my second spec. I think it had only been on for a season, but I really liked that show. I felt that they were very different scripts. MAD MEN is written like Don and Betty enter and then the dialogue. SHAMELESS is more similar to the way we write our show. The action is fun. So I was trying to show a different thing. Then I had a pilot. I think you needed 3 samples. I honestly felt good that I did it, that I didn’t just talk about that I’m going to be a writer then not do anything about it.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIG TAKEAWAYS FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE DISNEY-ABC FELLOWSHIP?

We had a guest speaker talk about what it’s like to be a staff writer and how hours could go by and you realize you haven’t said a word and then you’re in your head and you’re like I’m so stupid, they’re just staring at me, looking at me like why are you so dumb, you’re not saying anything. Then you finally say something and no one really responds. Then you think about okay, now I’m never talking. It was nice to hear that’s a common feeling, that you’re not alone and it’s to be expected.

I think she said, “The silence in your head is louder than it actually is.” That was very helpful to know or else I think in the first year I would have either talked way too much or not at all and just felt paralyzed by not wanting to share my ideas.

ADVICE ON FELLOWSHIP ESSAYS.

Get personal. Don’t write something generic. It’s hard to think about what is the most interesting thing about me. I don’t think people just walk around thinking about that. So I asked my roommate at the time. She was like your dad was from Somalia. I was like, oh, right. Then I just started slowly writing down funny stories that I remembered. Based on that, I crafted an essay around how I got into writing. It’s about me, but it’s about my dad, who spoke very broken English, but we shared a love for TV. There’s a thread in there that says something about me and why I’m here. These are things I don’t actually want to talk about, but I had to go to a place that was personal so they get to the heart of who I am.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE BREAKING IN AS A WRITER?

It’s easier to become a writer if you’re an assistant somewhere, however there are some places that only see assistants as assistants. Luckily ShondaLand isn’t like that, because there are a lot of assistants who have become writers. It is hard for people to make that transition to see you as a writer. In some ways you just have to prove yourself and show them you’re a worthy person.

I like to study. I’d watch the episodes, the cuts, read the scripts. There’s talent and then there’s hard work. What you lack in immediate talent, you can supplement with hard work until the talent increases. I just worked really hard. Anything they’d want me to do. Anything I could help with in any way. We have these things called addendums that post-production needs to play, like the news clips that air underneath the scenes. No one hears them, but they need something and they need to be filmed, so I’d write those. It’s important and it’s something that no one else wants to do, so I would do that. Also, it was a way for them to see my writing. I always encourage other writers to look for places where you can make your showrunner’s life easier. The easier you can make your showrunner’s life, the more valuable you are.

Coming Soon: Part Two with SCANDAL’s Raamla Mohamed as she shares advice on taking meetings, working with agents and managers and finding your way as a writer.


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.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL & SCREENWRITING CONFERENCE

2016 Awardees panel with Paul Feig, Nancy Meyers, Marta Kauffman during the Austin Film Festival. (Photo by Jack Plunkett)

2016 Awardees panel with Paul Feig, Nancy Meyers, Marta Kauffman during the Austin Film Festival. (Photo by Jack Plunkett)

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Annual Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference gathers professional and aspiring writers together in the celebration of the contribution writers make to film and television.

Attendees had the opportunity to see a jam packed slate of films as well as choose from a variety of panels on the craft, art and business of writing for television and film. TVWriter.com’s own Contributing Editor Kelly Jo Brick, was in Austin as a panelist this year and she brings some top takeaways from the event.

BREAKING IN 

  • Breaking in through the assistant ranks is a great way to show your personality to the people who are making staffing decisions. Getting a writing job is 50% personality, 50% writing. – Raamla Mohamed, SCANDAL, STILL STAR-CROSSED
  • Whatever entry-level job you’re doing, show up with a smile every day. – Jono Matt, DOCTOR DOLITTLE
  • Age isn’t a big deal as long as you don’t make a big deal about it yourself. – VJ Boyd, JUSTIFIED, THE PLAYER
  • For features, the toe in the door assistant route doesn’t work as well. There’s not a natural path in film. It becomes a question of do you find a job in the industry. This avenue helps with meeting people and morale, but it’s often hard to find time to write. The other choice is to take a non-brain taxing job. You’ll have time to write, but it’s hard on your morale. Whatever you decide, the most important thing is that your work is good. – Michael H. Weber, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER
  • Embrace failure. It’s all part of the process. A great baseball batter fails two-thirds of the time. – Kent Alterman, President, Comedy Central
  • You just have to write. Don’t obsess over details, just keep writing. Get out, network, get to as many people as possible. – Mark Johnson, Executive Producer BETTER CALL SAUL, BREAKING BAD
  • Try to make something. Doing that can help you break through. – Pamela Ribon, MOANA, SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE
  • Leap frog forward with your peer group. Find yourself a writers’ group. Find a like-minded group so you’re not alone. Shane Black, LETHAL WEAPON, IRON MAN 3
  • If you’re aiming for features, look for a reading job or get a job that gives you regular hours so that you can leave work at work and have more time to work on your own writing. – Christina Hodson, SHUT IN, UNFORGETTABLE

CHOOSING WHAT TO WRITE 

  • Think about what’s not on. Where is there a void, then write an original with a clear vision that is clever, emotional and relatable. We look for specific shows with specific visions. – Jennifer Salke, President, NBC Entertainment
  • Your first script will be your calling card. Just write what you want, don’t restrict yourself to a budget, get a script that people want to read. – Shane Black
  • Find a story that says something to you and write it in a specific life-filled way. You should absolutely write what you want to write. You can only go where your heart goes. – Michelle Ashford, Creator/Executive Producer, MASTERS OF SEX
  • Your point of view is the most important thing you have. Don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. – Kent Alterman
  • Write that weird idea you have that’s unique to you. – Amy Talkington, THE ICE QUEENS

PITCHING

  • When pitching, start from a relatable human character dynamic, that is what will pull people in. Who is in this world? Why do I care? – Jennifer Salke
  • Love and know your pitch. Find a personal attachment to it and set the visual and world right away.
  • Pitch the show as if you’re describing your favorite show to a friend. – VJ Boyd
  • Be ready with an answer if they ask what else you’re working on. Have a few ideas in your pocket.
  • Go in with confidence. Pretend you already have the yes. Know your story throughout and have a clear vision for it.

WRITING GREAT BAD GUYS

  • When creating a strong villain, be thinking of what specifically does he or she want and why do they want it now.
  • Stress your bad guys out as much as your leads. Give them their own ticking clock.
  • Characters reveal themselves through the lies they tell and expose themselves through the things they keep secret.
  • Use your own fears as inspiration.
  • Villains should be delicious and fun to write. They are the heroes of their own stories.
  • Art should make you look at monsters and see the evil inside. – Tom Szentgyorgyi, Executive Producer, BATES MOTEL

GETTING NOTES

  • Be wary of any writer who accepts all the notes. – Mark Johnson
  • Be easy to work with during the notes process. Even a bad note can hit on an issue. Be ready to educate/inform others on the notes you didn’t take. – Christina Hodson
  • Bathe in the notes. Let them wash over you. Take them. Listen. Deal with most and pick your battles over the choices you made and why. – Amy Talkington
  • Look at notes as an opportunity to make your projects better. – Pamela Robin

WHAT DECISION MAKERS LOOK FOR WHEN HIRING WRITERS

  • A clear and interesting voice, hearing a particular kind of voice and way with language and understanding of characters, that stands out. – Michelle Ashford
  • A room filled with unique voices. People with facile brains who write well. – Stephen Falk, Creator/Executive Producer YOU’RE THE WORST
  • Complementary personalities and skills, making a good balance in the room. – Kent Alterman
  • Imagination and the ability to translate it. Sheer uncontained talent over process and discipline, that can be learned. – Mark Johnson

    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