Who Inspires You: TV Writers Share Their Creative Inspirations

by Kelly Jo Brick

Whether a beginning writer or an experienced veteran, admiration helps fuel our creative endeavors. Writers from film and television share who has inspired them through the years.

JASON RICHMAN (LUCKY 7, DETROIT 1-8-7) – I always admired Lawrence Kasdan. First of all, as a viewer, as a fan of movies, but he was an inspiration because he did all kinds of different things. He wrote THE BIG CHILL, he wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I admire that, someone who has an idea that interests them, a world that interests them and then just goes where their creativity takes them. I think that he’s sort of the model to me of that person who just won’t be pigeonholed. To be so good in so many different genres is a real feat and to direct and do all those things is pretty cool.

DANIEL KNAUF (THE BLACKLIST, CARNIVALE) – Rod Serling inspires me. Harlan Ellison, and Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Charles Bukowski, a lot of prose writers. I think today, I love Joss Whedon’s work. I love Vince Gilligan’s work.

There’s some peers. John Eisendrath, is a terrific writer. Steven DeKnight, I worked with him on SPARTACUS and he’s a wonderful writer and showrunner. I just try to work with people I’m going to learn stuff from. I’m still a sponge.

STERLING ANDERSON (THE GABBY DOUGLAS STORY, THE UNIT) When I first started, Horton Foote inspired me, the movie that made me want to become a writer was TENDER MERCIES.

I liked those movies that didn’t have shoot ‘em up and helicopter crashes. I like character driven films like ORDINARY PEOPLE. One of my first really super favorite films was SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, Spike Lee. He inspired me. Probably those two were the biggest inspirations I had.

CRAIG SILVERSTEIN (TURN, NIKITA) – I remember really being impressed with Shane Black, his screenplays. A lot of people talk about his writing, like he comments on the page or he comments to the reader and stuff like that and it’s actually not that. What it is, is that he is very effectively giving you the feeling in the right amount of words of exactly how this moment feels and looks.

That’s something that’s sort of where screenwriting crosses the transom between prose and poetry. Are you able to break the rules of grammar and exposition and this proper stuff to say exactly, oh, I know exactly how that’s going to feel on screen? He does that.

LIZ TIGELAAR (CASUAL, LIFE UNEXPECTED) – As a TV writer, I am very inspired by other TV writers. I love when people kind of embrace TV and embrace what being a TV writer means and embrace that type of storytelling.

Certainly Winnie Holzman is an inspiration. Winnie’s such an iconic voice, a wonderful person and someone who really is able to infuse herself in everything she does.

Jill Soloway really inspires me because I feel like she took great control of her career. She kind of made it exactly what she wanted it to be and did it well, infusing a really personal story into it that also was incredibly timely, relevant, political and provocative.

So many of the women writers that are my peers really inspire me with what they do. There are so many great people, like Lisa Zwerling is someone I worked with and I found her very inspiring. Kerry Ehrin, I love how her mind works. She approaches everything in this really sideways, interesting, unexpected way. A lot of the women I work with are peers and mentors and writers I that would like to emulate and take certain skills that they have and incorporate them into my own writing.

LaTOYA MORGAN (TURN, INTO THE BADLANDS) – My favorite writer is John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book, just because it’s a family story. It’s a journey. Tom Joad is one of my favorite characters.

I am not a snob when it comes to storytelling, so whatever the genre or medium, I love it, so I love all kinds of sci-fi stuff like BATTLESTAR, THE X-FILES and then I love something gritty like SONS OF ANARCHY, GAME OF THRONES, fantasy stuff.

MARK GOFFMAN (BULL, LIMITLESS, SLEEPY HOLLOW) – John August is just brilliant and so inventive and a great spirit too. Aaron Sorkin was an early influence and somebody I’ve always looked up to even before I got the opportunity to work with him.

Tom Stoppard also, early on I really tended to gravitate towards both playwrights and people with a knack for dialogue. As a former speechwriter, I just love words and wordplay and people who are inventive with their language.

RAAMLA MOHAMED (SCANDAL, STILL STAR-CROSSED) – Who inspires me are 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? I think 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.

WENDY CALHOUN (EMPIRE, JUSTIFIED)- Alan Ball, his work on SIX FEET UNDER I thought was fabulous. Elmore Leonard, only because I had to read so much Elmore getting ready for JUSTIFIED, and while I was doing JUSTIFIED, that I just fell in love with him. It wasn’t work at all. It was just fabulous, fun pop writing that the world needs more of.

I love The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read Roots as well and I really enjoyed Alex Haley. I’m so glad that his works were made for the screen as well, because I wouldn’t have been introduced to them, same as Alice Walker and The Color Purple.

ROB EDWARDS (THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, A DIFFERENT WORLD) – Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, they’re all guys who had started as stand-ups and then wrote for some variety, some sitcom, then wrote movies and then wrote and directed movies and I thought it’s just a great way to always be confident in your comedy, your sense of storytelling.


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 Manager Zadoc Angell, Part 2

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

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Finding the right representation can be a key component to growing and developing a writing career. TVWriter.com sat down with several managers to find out what they’re looking for in writers and what writers can be doing to help achieve success in the industry.

Literary Manager Zadoc Angell of Echo Lake Entertainment brings with him the unique perspective of having worked first as an agent and now as a manager. He shares experiences and insights from his years building, growing and revitalizing writers’ careers.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A MANAGER?

The first is breaking in someone who’s totally new and hasn’t staffed before. It’s always hard to get that first job at the staff writer level and be taken seriously. People break in all different ways. It can be through your manager or agent submitting you to a show or it can be working your way up as a writers’ assistant or script coordinator or a showrunner assistant. It can be winning a contest, it can be getting into one of the network programs.

The other biggest challenge is career transition, when writers may have established themselves in some sort of fashion, let’s say as a comedy writer and now they want to be taken seriously as a drama writer or a veteran writer who has been around a long time, but has gone a little cold and you’re trying to reinvent their narrative and their story.

The good news about writers is that you can reinvent yourself through material. You can write that new special script in a different genre to help show people that you’re not just the category of writer they may have perceived you to be. We deal with these challenges all the time, but they’re big hurdles and they need a lot of strategy and thought and care put into achieving them for the client.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE WRITERS WHEN THEY’RE TAKING THEIR FIRST MEETINGS?

If it’s a showrunner meeting, the biggest thing I tell writers is to make sure that you’ve read the pilot script and you have very specific thoughts about it, meaning you responded to a particular character for a particular reason or particular joke or storyline or bit of dialogue or a key moment.

You have to realize that these showrunners are meeting with writers on the hour or the half hour and everyone’s saying they love it. Everyone says it’s great, but if you’re only speaking in generalities, it doesn’t mean anything to them. So if you really have read it and really have internalized it and really can talk about specifics, then that showrunner is much more likely to think that you actually cared about his or her show and you really thought about it.

The best is when you can take those things that you responded to and turn it into a conversation about yourself, where you responded to that character because she reminds you so much of your mother, then you’re talking about your mother and where you grew up. Then all of a sudden a showrunner is getting to know who you are and why you’re specifically right for his or her show, but you’re leading into the conversation by talking about that showrunner’s show and their writing.

The worst thing you can do is come out of a showrunner meeting and feel like they didn’t get to know you at all, because then why would I hire a writer that I don’t think is uniquely qualified for my show or that I got to know as a person on any level. You have to find ways to insert that in the conversation because quite often they only want to talk about their own show.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

It’s funny because the things that are the most challenging are also the most rewarding. So when you do get that client their first staff job, it’s just so exciting. You know someone’s life has just changed and a dream has come true for them. That’s really fulfilling on a lot of levels and the career transition, when you’re able to take that client and get them into a new side of the business or achieve a long-term goal that seemed really hard to pull off, that’s when you feel the most fulfilled and the most pride.

One of my signature clients is Ingrid Escajeda who started out as a comedy writer. I got her, her first job on HANNAH MONTANA when I was a Coordinator at Paradigm. That was a big first for both of us, because she broke in and it was my first time staffing somebody and we were so thrilled. And then she went on to BETTER OFF TED on ABC for 2 seasons and coming off that she was really interested in becoming a drama writer. She thought that was maybe where she would find more success.

So I told her to write a drama pilot. And she wrote a pilot about the LA Bomb Squad that was very RESCUE ME in tone and used the best of drama and comedy in one sample and it was gritty and compelling. I sent it to Graham Yost who was reading for JUSTIFIED.  He hired her and she was on JUSTIFIED for four years. Now she’s a Co-EP on EMPIRE and has an overall deal at 20th.

Her whole life has changed, but it changed through that one script. That piece of material that showed she could do it. And it didn’t happen overnight. We worked hard and were patient and did the right things. We got it to the right showrunner and the right show and it changed her whole profile as a writer in the community. When you do things like that, there is no better feeling.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES YOU SEE WRITERS MAKING?

Once you’re a successful writer and you’re working on shows full-time, it becomes very hard to write your own material and so it’s really important you find time to continue to write your own pilots or features or film shorts, even prose. Just have some sort of creative outlet for yourself outside of your day job, because the day job can be all consuming and it can drain you emotionally and creatively, but you’re writing for someone else, on someone else’s show that is their voice, their characters and what can happen is that you start to lose touch with your own creative fire. So it’s really important to keep that going.

You have to be incredibly disciplined to do it because it’s so easy when you have a full-time job and a life and a family and that sort of stuff to not find time for your own writing. But I find that the writers who do, they’re the ones who really need to write in order to breathe and ultimately have the most success.

WHAT CAN A WRITER DO TO HELP YOU DO YOUR JOB?

Write great material and be great in a room. There’s a marked difference when a writer goes into a room and has just an okay meeting and when they go into a room and they kill it, because when you call an executive for feedback, if there’s just middle of the road feedback, you made an introduction, but it’s not really going to add up to anything or go anywhere, but if the person that you met with is genuinely excited about you, there’s much more possibility of an opportunity coming out of that somehow, some way, whether it’s immediate or down the road, because they’re going to remember you for if not this thing, the next thing. They may be tracking that writer’s career. They’re excited about that person. You’re now on their recommended writers list when they’re thinking about writers for projects and staffing.

We work really hard to get our clients in rooms and get meetings and so if we’ve done all the work of opening the door, you’ve got to meet us halfway and barrel through that door and win over the people you’re talking to.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS IN EARLY STAGES IN THEIR CAREER LOOKING TO BREAK IN?

Write material that excites you, that is daring and different and bold. It’s bad when writers just try to write for the marketplace or try to copy something that’s popular right now. It tends not to be writers’ best work.

What’s probably going to break you through the clutter and get you your first representative and get you your first job is really compelling, exciting material that is a distinct voice, that is a distinct point of view, that people read and they get really excited about. Trying to write down the middle just doesn’t do anyone any good.

You also have to think of the kinds of content that the tastemakers in our business are watching. Most people are watching HBO and Showtime and Netflix and AMC and FX and so that kind of taste in material is quite prevalent in our business. So your edgy FX sample might be the thing that gets you a job on CRIMINAL MINDS. That’s the thing that people don’t realize sometimes, because the showrunner of CRIMINAL MINDS is probably watching FX’s programming.


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 FROM THE NATIONAL HISPANIC MEDIA COALITION’S ANNUAL MEDIACON

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by Kelly Jo Brick

NHMC MediaCon is not only an event dedicated to exploring the achievements and challenges that Latinos face in the entertainment industry, it also a day filled with great inspiration from a wide array of panelists and an opportunity for attendees to make connections directly with managers, writers and producers.

With panels focused on getting representation, how the internet is revolutionizing Latino content creation and the business of TV writing, the day was a coming together to strategize how to infuse more Latinos into the media industry, both in front of and behind the camera.

In the keynote discussion, NBC Entertainment Chairman, Robert Greenblatt, called this “the year of the Latina woman” as he talked of upcoming NBC shows starring Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez and America Ferrera. He also believed that diversity is continuing to expand and programming is starting to, “Feel like the world we all live in.”

Here are some of the top takeaways from the event:

THE “EMPIRE EFFECT” IS WAKING THE INDUSTRY UP – Success of a show like Empire is proving that there are underrepresented audiences out there who are hungry for entertainment. The biggest color Hollywood sees is the green of money and when something’s working, they want it. As Rashad Raisani, (Executive Producer, Allegiance) commented, “At a certain point they realize minorities help them make money, then they hire.”

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE INDUSTRY – “Go to everything. See everything. You will learn. Watch every TV show you can, read about the business. You have to do everything you can. Immerse yourself, because someone else will.” – Robert Greenblatt

BE FEARLESS & CREATE NURTURING ENVIRONMENTS – Robert Greenblatt further encouraged attendees to be fearless as they work to grow and develop their careers. “Fear is the antithesis of creativity.” With a supportive culture and nurturing environments, we all can accomplish so much more.

DEDICATE YOURSELF TO YOUR CRAFT – “This is an industry that takes a lifetime of commitment,” Jairo Alvarado, Manager/Producer, Circle of Confusion. The industry is filled with challenges and managers are looking for talent who are dedicated to their careers long term. Nobody wants to feel like they’ve done a ton of work for someone who backs down after the first obstacle comes his or her way.

Manager Tracey Murray of Industry Entertainment Partners also suggested that writers and other creatives, “Be a student of the industry. Be prepared when you go in a meeting. Do the research.”

YOUR REPS WORK FOR YOU – “Own that your rep is your employee,” declared Eddie Gamarra, Manager/Producer, The Gotham Group. Everyone has that great burst of excitement when they first sign with an agent or manager, but when it comes down to it, your agent or manager works for you. Make sure you articulate what your needs and goals are. Empower them as part of your business that is going to help you reach where you want to go with your career and encourage them to showcase the nuances of your writing and your background that make you stand out from the competition.

ALWAYS BE CREATING – This was a recurring theme of MediaCon. Technology has leveled the playing field when it comes to creative. It’s easier than ever before to create content so don’t sit back and wait to be chosen. As Manager/Producer Eddie Gamarra put it, “Go make stuff. You have the means. Make it happen on your own.”

APPLY TO THE DIVERSITY PROGRAMS – Organizations like the National Hispanic Media Coalition are working with the networks to foster growth for minorities in entertainment. Representatives from ABC, NBC, and CBS’s diversity programs all recommended attendees apply to diversity programs as a way to break into the industry. These programs open doors.

WRITE THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL – Managers, writers and representatives from the network diversity programs all echoed the same thought, know what experiences are unique to you and use that in your work. As CAA agent Ashley Holland put it, “What are your superpowers?” Find those things that make you special and play to those strengths. This goes not only for the scripts you write, but also for when you fill out the application essays/letters of interest for the diversity programs.


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.