Kelly Jo Brick: – Advice From Emmy-Nominated Writers

Photo Credit: Michael Lynn Jones / WGAW

Sublime Primetime 2017
by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild of America, West, the Writers Guild Foundation and Variety, hosted several of this year’s Emmy-nominated writers during their annual Sublime Primetime event. Moderator Larry Wilmore led a stellar panel of writers including Matt & Ross Duffer (STRANGER THINGS), Jo Miller (FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE), Gordon Smith (BETTER CALL SAUL), Lena Waithe (MASTER OF NONE) and Steven Davis & Kelvin Yu (BOB’S BURGERS) in a discussion about breaking in, the process and ideas behind their nominated episodes, chasing trends and the delicate balance of blending humor and activism.

These Emmy-nominated writers shared with TVWriter.com the best advice they received as they were starting out.

KELVIN YU – BOB’S BURGERS – You have to get a lot of bad writing out of your system as fast as you can. There’s a certain perfectionism and a certain ethos of letting perfect get in the way of good that stops people from that first step. So write something and make it as bad as you can possibly make it, like just literally get it out. Barf it out of your system and then write something again and imagine that it’s maybe just 4 percent less bad and then the third thing will be 4 percent less bad. It’s not ever as bad as you think it is. That’s the truth that you need to keep telling yourself.

STEVEN DAVIS – BOB’S BURGERS – To keep writing. To lock myself indoors. To not show stuff to people right away. To enjoy writing. Do it for lots of hours and to truly just write and write and write.

LENA WAITHE – MASTER OF NONE – The best advice was pretty simple, it was to be great. That was from Gina Prince-Bythewood. I used to be her assistant. She was like you gotta be the best to really break through all the clutter. It was a simple piece of advice, but it was very layered. Over the course of time I started to understand what she meant, like honing my craft, studying television and really trying to be a master at it. Work so hard that you shine and people can’t look away. That’s the advice I give now to people, it’s just to be great.

GORDON SMITH – BETTER CALL SAUL – Be passionate. If you love it, if you love what you’re doing, that’s going to come through. It’s going to separate you from just something that rounds the bases and is technically proficient. There’s a lot of technique you can learn and practice, but the thing that’s going to make your thing stand out is you.

JO MILLER – FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE – Use your own voice, even if it sounds like nobody else. Especially if it sounds like nobody else. Don’t try to imitate somebody else. Say the things that are important to you, even if you think nobody cares about them. Only think about what’s important to you to say, that’s where your best writing is going to be.

MATT DUFFER – STRANGER THINGS – For a while you’re taught, especially in school, how to follow certain structure acts and structure breaks. That really held us back for a while. All of us have seen so many movies and have watched so many television shows that we sort of know the rhythm. You don’t need to make it be mathematical, because it shouldn’t be mathematical. Those rhythms will kind of reveal themselves as you’re writing on your own.

ROSS DUFFER – STRANGER THINGS – For us, the most helpful advice was not to overdo the writing. You can tell a simple story and you don’t need a lot at the end of the day. That was an important lesson for us.

Other highlights from the evening:

GETTING THAT FIRST JOB

Just get in the business. Take an internship, get an assistant job. One of the biggest challenges of breaking in is knowing people and finding people who trust you enough to recommend you. Just get in the industry and prove that you work hard, give it your best and show that you are someone people can count on.

Film school works for some, but not everyone. If you’re a comedy writer, get your material on Twitter. Always keep writing and don’t be afraid to write something to make on your own.

THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF WRITING FOR TELEVISION

TV shows are living, breathing things. Sometimes creators go in thinking this is what it is and then an actor comes in and can lead to things changing and growing in unexpected ways. Don’t be so locked in on where the story is going. Leave space for actors to walk in or for a writer who has a big pitch, because if you’re so blocked in on the idea you have, there’s no room for that magical creative fairy dust to come in.

GETTING YOUR WORK OUT THERE – WRITING THE SCRIPT THAT GETS ATTENTION

There’s so much clutter. There’s a lot of mediocrity. Work on your script until it’s amazing. They don’t care where you’re from or who you are. If you have something that’s amazing and great and phenomenal, that’s like gold.

Also be you, because you’re not going to be great unless you care about what you are doing to the exclusion of all else. Don’t try to be what you think somebody else wants.

You have to be willing to walk away and say no. Don’t chase the trends, you’ll write something you’re not passionate about and it will show. Write something you want to see. That’s what opens doors. Everyone is looking for great material.


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 SUPERNATURAL’S Davy Perez, Part 2

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.

Persistence and positive attitude were major influences in the development of Davy Perez’s career in entertainment. Born and raised in East LA, Davy became involved with a sketch group and worked as a background actor before following his creative passions as a writer. Acceptance into multiple writing programs helped lead the way to him becoming a staff writer for the highly acclaimed TV show AMERICAN CRIME. He now writes for the CW series, SUPERNATURAL.

HOW DID YOU GET THE WRITING JOB ON AMERICAN CRIME?

One of the executives I met with who had a producing deal was Michael McDonald. I went in to his office for a general meeting and he was in pilot production of AMERICAN CRIME. We talked about the script and talked about my own upbringing and when I was a teenager and getting into trouble. They had a character on the show that was going to go through this arc. He was kind of like; you’re very close to the character in a lot of ways. He was also tickled by the fact that we knew each other, you used to get coffee and now you’re here and that’s fantastic. He said, “You should meet John Ridley, I think he’d really like your story.”

I met John and that’s how I got staffed on AMERICAN CRIME. For that to be the first show that I got to work on was a huge blessing, because we were trying to be socially conscious, and also the level of work that I was surrounded by, the people I was surrounded by, from the cast to the crew to writing. I was very humbled and am still humbled to be able to say this was the company I was part of. That job wasn’t just a job, it was the beginning of my career.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FIRST TIME STAFF WRITERS?

No one is looking at you to solve problems. No one is looking at you to point out the big hole in the season. No one is looking at you to pitch the perfect twist for the ultimate finale episode. They have so many levels above you that have been doing that and are being paid to figure those things out.

They have you there for a reason. What they want from you is your life experience and your willingness to contribute and a little bit of humility and positive energy. Someone to hang out with and has interesting contributions and can also let go when their contributions don’t work.

HOW DID YOU GET REPRESENTATION?

I got a manager through a friend. Stefano Agosto, who is now at AMC as an executive, was an assistant at Universal Cable Productions when I was an assistant. We were both dreaming of bigger and better things. We just bonded. At the time I was working for Noah Hawley. I had material and I had gotten into the Latino Writers Workshop and had met with a few managers. They read me, and either they were gun-shy or I just didn’t like them enough to sell myself. It just wasn’t working. He called me up and said, “Hey, a manager came to a meeting with my boss and asked me if I had been tracking any good writers. I said yeah, and I want to give him your script because I really like it.” I said yes, absolutely. That was totally cool with me.

I made a big writer faux pas. I didn’t have much material to back it up with. So I met with Steve Smith at Stagecoach Entertainment. He was like, you don’t have much material, but this was really good. He had some thoughts on where it could go and how to make it better. He gave me some notes. We talked about how I came up. Ultimately I had, and still have, the goal that I want to be a showrunner someday. I want to tell stories that aren’t being told and I want to hire people that don’t get hired. That’s the kind of person I want to be.

He liked the attitude, loved the personality. The one sample was cool. The other stuff he read and was like you can’t really use it because it was comedy. What I did was I took his notes and I turned a rewrite around, I think we met on a Tuesday and by Friday I had a rewrite. He was like, wow, you work really quickly. He read it over the weekend and on Monday he was like, “This is really good. You took my notes and added things I didn’t see, so we want to sign you.”

ADVICE ON TAKING STAFFING AND GENERAL MEETINGS.

Try to find something to talk about and bond over other than the reason why you’re there, but then never forget why you’re there. When I got staffed on AMERICAN CRIME, I met with John the week he won the Oscar for 12 YEARS A SLAVE. I was in the lobby and I kept saying, “Don’t talk about the Oscar. Don’t talk about the Oscar,” because the conversation will become tell me about what’s been the last year of your life and I will not get to talk about myself.

So I went in the room, I think I said something like congratulations on all your recent success. He said thank you. Then on his bookcase was a Raymond Chandler novel and I had just finished reading The Big Sleep. I said, “Oh, Raymond Chandler, I love Raymond Chandler. I just finished reading The Big Sleep.” He goes, “That’s my favorite book. I read it eight times.” Then we started talking about The Long Goodbye, which I had never read. So that was like fifteen minutes of just Raymond Chandler talk. Then he segued into tell me about yourself.

At that point I had read the script and so I was telling my life story, but I was touching on moments that I knew he could mine for this character, Tony. I went in there knowing that I’m going to pitch myself as the guy who can write Tony the character, but I’m not going to say that, I’m going to embody it. This character in the script, he gets arrested for getting into some juvenile delinquency and so I said, well I grew up in East LA and I’ve been in trouble with the law, but nothing serious, I was just kind of a delinquent. I wasn’t lying and I wasn’t putting on a show. I was being honest about a specific element of my life that applies to the story that he was trying to tell. I always have the attitude of what can I do for the showrunner, because it’s his or her vision. What can I do to bring it to life?

WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON QUESTION ASPIRING WRITERS ASK YOU? HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THEM?

How do I get an agent/first writing job? The answer to that is complicated, because there is no one absolute method that works. That being said, there is one absolute method that will get you there eventually: hone your craft. Getting a job, and getting and agent or manager will happen if your work is undeniable. We can all always do better work. So anyone who believes they don’t have any further to grow and are ready “as is” are already selling themselves short. You may be at a level that is hirable, so that means it’s only a matter of time until that happens. If it doesn’t happen soon, then get better. Get so good that people will fight to represent and hire you. Then you are in the driver’s seat. The other side to working on your own material is to make lots of friends at all levels in the industry. The intern you supervise might someday be the next Shonda Rhimes or Vince Gilligan, why not get in on the ground floor? I’m not saying to live your life trying to use people, quite the opposite. Live your life trying to do good for others and eventually that good will you’ve shown in life will come around in some way.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS IN THE EARLY STAGES OF THEIR CAREERS?

Don’t give up. If this job were easy, everyone would do it. The hardest part is staying committed to the craft. Many people start out willing to fail, to chase their dream and damn all else in pursuit of it. Accept that you will fail a fair amount of times, but above that, be willing to succeed. Be willing to do the hard work, to get past the tough times, to embrace success and what it will bring you. Chase success and enjoy the process of getting there. The journey towards your goals is what makes up the bulk of your life. It should be satisfying to you right now, at whatever stage you are at. Because once you get that first writing job, that’s only the beginning of a whole new set of struggles you will have to navigate. That’s when the work really starts.


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 SUPERNATURAL’S Davy Perez, Part 1

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.

Persistence and positive attitude were major influences in the development of Davy Perez’s career in entertainment.

Born and raised in East LA, and without much support for his writing and creative interests, Davy found himself getting into trouble, being kicked out of four different high schools because of his rambunctious and rebellious behavior.

Participation in a sketch group led to him studying acting where he eventually began to write sketch comedy before he turned his focus to writing drama. His first job was as a staff writer for the highly acclaimed TV show AMERICAN CRIME and he now writes for the CW series, SUPERNATURAL.

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

I would write as young as about ten or twelve. I would write silly little short stories. At 13, I started writing poetry, as I became a teenager with angst. As a musician, I would write song lyrics. I kinda call that passive writing. I wasn’t really engaging it the way a writer consciously has something to say. It was just things coming out of me that I needed to almost like exorcise my own emotions and inner demons.

I started acting in high school in school plays. After high school I was in a sketch comedy group and someone said that I should pursue this. I didn’t want to go to college. I was always an artistic kind of individual. In East LA, nobody, at that time, tells you that you can have a career as an artist if you train and study. Nobody says, you’re good at writing. You should go hone that. They tell you to get your high school diploma, go to college, become a teacher, doctor, lawyer or engineer. Those are all good livings to have. If you’re an artistic person, there isn’t quite the support system in the neighborhoods that I grew up in. Which I imagine is probably true for a lot of inner city kids.

Somewhere inside of me, that always rubbed me as wrong that I wasn’t getting support for the things I wanted to do, so I had to find a way to do them on my own.

WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO GET YOUR CREATIVE CAREER STARTED?

That’s where I linked up. That sketch group I was with was actually guys who were four or five years older than me. They thought I was funny and so they would use me for little things here and there. One of them told me there were acting schools I could go to. I went to the Stella Adler Academy. I was there for about a year and a half. From there I learned about the Playhouse West, which is a repertory school that at the time, James Franco was there. Scott Caan was there. It was like this cool place where all these known, name guys were coming out of. Jeff Goldblum was a teacher there. Funny enough, Mark Pellegrino was a teacher there, who is now on our show. I was part of that acting program for about four or five years.

At the advanced levels they start to have you write your own scenes. It was the first time where now me, as a creative person, was engaging writing with a mind for I need to tell a story. I need to have a scene. All the work I learned as an actor I still use as far as character arc, character spine, driving force behind moments and stuff like that.

I would say that the acting training has greatly influence not only my writing, but I’m also trying to be a multi-hyphenate and direct and that comes super handy.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST OVERALL JOB IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

I was a background extra. I did that for years because I just wanted to be on set and part of the industry. After a while I realized this isn’t a good path if I really wanted to be an actor. They don’t pluck a background person very often and you don’t move up.

What I did like is just being on set and watching the crews work. I would watch the director and DP have conversations about how they would approach a scene. Very often I was told to stand back and go back to holding.

Eventually I became a PA. Then I was meant to be on set. I really worked my way up through production and got to a point where I almost had a career as a production coordinator or production manager. That ultimately wasn’t where my heart was and so I decided to take a step back from that and find a way to work in a creative office.

I was lucky enough, I applied to a program at ABC called the Production Associates Program. I don’t know if it exists anymore. It used to be that they get like ten recent college graduates and they put them through different departments. Someone would go to finance and someone would go to backlot. The year I applied, was the first year they were going to have someone do the creative office stuff. I met a lot of really great people and a lot of the executives and I had some support, but I didn’t get in.

The woman who did get in, got hired full-time four months after the process. They called me up and said, “You were our number two. You were our alternate. Do you want to do the program still?”

That was my first real television job in the creative field. From that moment, I can definitely point a finger to that was how I was able to break onto this side of things and eventually make my way to be in a writing office.

WHAT’S SOME OF THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED WHILE STARTING OUT?

This goes for not just the career, but for pitching. Specifically someone gave me this advice for when trying to sell a piece of property and also selling yourself and I took it and applied it to everything else. His name is Rob Aft. He’s a marketing guy. He helped connect different people in the film world.

He said, “People love to work with their friends”. Everyone loves to hire their friend. They know that person. They trust that person. When you go into a room, make a friend. Make as many friends as you can. It may not be about the thing you that have in your lap that you’re trying to sell. It may not be about that immediate thing, but if it is, great. If it works out, great, but if they pass or if they’re not ready or if you’re not ready, make that friend. It absolutely was how I got the job on AMERICAN CRIME, because of how I carried myself.

I would make friends with everyone and be friendly and always have a positive outlook, a positive attitude. Absolutely having that open and positive kind of energy to me is key to how I’ve been able to get where I am.

Coming Soon: Davy Perez shares how he got his first writing job and offers insights on taking meetings, finding representation and pursuing your writing goals.


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: Mastering the TV Writing Meeting

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

As a writer, meetings are a regular fact of life. Whether it’s sitting down with potential representation, pitching projects, taking generals or for staffing, each meeting comes with a different set of expectations and needs for preparation.

The Writers Guild Foundation brought in experts from across the industry including Jennifer Good, an agent in Paradigm’s Television Literary Department, writer and co-EP on THE HANDMAID’S TALE, Kira Snyder, Christopher Mack, Senior VP at Warner Bros. Television and the head of the WB Writers’ Workshop and acclaimed story/career consultant and former network executive, Jen Grisanti, to discuss what to do, what not to do, how to prep and how to follow up for the wide variety of entertainment meetings writers face in the pursuit of their careers.

Tips before your take your first meetings:

  • Don’t ramble. Be clear about what you want to express in regards to the outcome that you want.
  • You will be going to lots of meetings in your career. It’s important to keep records of who you meet with, because people often shift from place to place. Make a spreadsheet with details on the who/when/what of your meetings, it can help prevent you from embarrassing yourself along the way.
  • Don’t wear a suit and tie. It’s a casual business. Don’t look too professional, but don’t look like you’re coming in right off the street.
  • Be prepared and know who you’re meeting with and their background. It’s so much easier now that you can Google everybody.

Red Flags:

  • The biggest red flag is someone who can’t express emotion about any television show they’re watching or any film they loved. If you can’t express your passion for a story and you’re in a story meeting, that doesn’t work.
  • If you’re a filmmaker meeting on a TV show, don’t say that you only do TV to pay the bills.
  • Don’t be late. Be early. LA is a rough town for traffic. If you’re meeting on a studio lot, those are big. You might get lost, you might have to find the building. All the studio lots have cafes or bathrooms where you can kill time if you need to.

Building Your Connections – The Informational Meeting:

  • It always helps if you have a contact in the business and do an informational meeting with that person. Even meeting people who may not be able to help you in your journey of becoming a writer, but they’re tied to the business somehow, is good. For every person you know, they know at least three people who can help you get to your goal.

Finding Representation:

  • Meet with a number of managers and agents before you sign. Find out who you click with. The agency is important, but the person you click with is much more important. You definitely want to find the person who fits with you, gets you and your material and what your goals are, more so than any name above the door.
  • As a writer, remember you’re the one doing the interviewing. At the end of the day, the agent/manager works for you. They’re supposed to be there to help you. At the same time you’re supposed to help your rep with material so he/she can put you out there. Also remember that the agent is only responsible for 10 percent. You’re responsible for 90 percent, so it’s not on them to do all the work. You need to hustle yourself.

General Meetings:

  • It’s like a job interview, but there’s probably not an actual job on the line. You should go in more relaxed, because if you’re in a general meeting, it means an executive at a network or studio or production company has read your script and thought it was interesting and they like what your representation or other people had to say about you and they want to meet you.
  • You have to recognize there are no stakes in a general meeting. The goal of the general meeting is for you to make an authentic connection with the person you are meeting with.
  • They’ll ask you tell a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your story? Tell me about that script I read. Where did it come from? Try to approach it like an informal get to know you.
  • Know a little about the company you’re meeting with and the shows they produce.
  • Don’t make them do all the work. Don’t make them ask you all the questions. Ask questions, like this pilot you’re developing, it’s so interesting, how did it come to you guys.
  • Follow up with a thank you email the next day. These are busy people. Be polite. Thank them for their time. It helps to reference something that you talked about so it’s not just a generic thank you.

Staffing Meetings:

  • What you’re trying to get up to is the showrunner meeting, that is the one where you might get the job. There are meetings that lead up to that. If you’ve had generals, you’ll probably have follow ups, sometimes with the same executives for that particular show. You might then be handed off to the production company.
  • For the showrunner meeting you will have read the pilot and should be ready to talk about it in detail. Have questions about a choice they made in the pilot or if you’re really excited about a particular part, or like I really like this dynamic, are you planning to expand on that, those kind of things.
  • You and the showrunner are both writers and you’ll be getting in a discussion about story. They want to understand how you think about story, how you read a script, how you can talk about it in a way that shows how you would add to a room.
  • If you’re meeting on a comedy show, it’s important to be funny, to have a nice rapport, because you’re going to be in the room all day with people and go back and forth and be easy with jokes.

The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to wgfoundation.org.


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.

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.

TV WRITING: Your First Years In The Writers Room

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

From finding representation to landing the first staff writing gig and navigating the writers’ room, everyone’s path to breaking in is different. The Writers Guild Foundation brought together Polina Diaz (FULLER HOUSE), Kay Oyegun (THIS IS US, QUEEN SUGAR), Robert Padnick (THE OFFICE, MAN SEEKING WOMAN) and Britta Lundin (RIVERDALE) to talk about the highlights and challenges of their first years writing for television.

WRITING THE SCRIPT TO LAND YOUR FIRST JOB

Write the script you’re really scared to write, because it’s probably the one most personal to you and will resonate the most with other people. It doesn’t matter if nobody’s going to buy it or it’s too expensive. Just write what you want to for your sample.

BUILDING YOUR NETWORK

It’s totally fine if you move to Los Angeles without knowing anybody, you’re just going to meet those people naturally. Work backwards from what you have and build on that. Do you have friends who are in the entertainment business? Do you have friends who have friends in the industry? Just be really thoughtful.

Meet people who you maybe want to be friends with. It’s so not schmoozing people at a mixer and handing them your business card. It’s like going to a birthday party and talking to someone and learning about them and caring about them. Later maybe they’ll be like, oh, I like your project, maybe I want to read your script. That’s the kind of networking that’s going to be most helpful.

Go out to drinks once or twice a week just to chat with people and see what’s up with their lives and exchange scripts. You meet a lot of people through writing groups and reading their work. Doing that long enough, you build up a group of friends and people who care about you as a person and want to see you succeed.

If you’re a comedy writer, there are definitely comedy communities that you can be part of like Upright Citizens Brigade or Groundlings. While you’re doing that, do things to get noticed, Twitter feeds, web series. People notice funny people all the time. There are ways to stand out if you’re just really creative or working really hard at it.

MAKING THAT FIRST IMPRESSION WITH REPS – IS YOUR MATERIAL NOT GOOD OR ARE YOU SENDING IT TO THE WRONG PERSON?

The question of how good I am versus how people are receiving me is going to haunt us for all of our careers. One thing you should have in your life is really honest critique partners who will tell you the truth. Hopefully you have a writing group or a friend who will be like, this needs more work or this isn’t your script, you have to write something else. If you have people who seem really smart and know what they’re talking about and they say it’s good, then maybe it’s good and you’re just sending it to the wrong person. It’s important to do your research and know what kind of stuff that manager or agent represents or what their other clients are doing. If they only do genre stuff and you’re sending out a romantic comedy, it might not be the right match.

It’s really important to know your brand. Before you think of yourself as a brand or as a business, which you really are, you have to know what you love and what excites you. Hone in on your craft and make sure what you’re writing is solid. Send the best thing you have. You have to fight for it. If they’re not into you, they’re not into you. Move on to the next person.

THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING FOR A TV SHOW BASED ON A BOOK

You change so many things and you move things around. You apologize to the author constantly, because so much of the book is changed. We try to be truthful to the core essence of the book and also be respectful to the fans who read and loved the book. You do your best and try to be truthful to it, but you don’t have to be married to it.

HOW TO ACT IN THE ROOM AS A NEW WRITER

Read the room. Am I talking too much? Does anyone look annoyed by how much I’m talking? Do they look annoyed by how little I’m talking? Definitely when you’re a staff writer, it depends on the showrunner and the staff for how much you should speak.

Some people don’t really care about the politics, they say if you have a good idea, just say it. For some shows there definitely is a hierarchy and you have to read that out. When you’re a staff writer, you’re never going to go in the room and be like, I know what the A story is or this is what your show is. For comedy, you’re there to pitch jokes when they’re stuck on something or pitch ideas, but don’t command the room.

Be overly prepared. That is very helpful. You are a facilitator of someone else’s vision. Know the world, at least to an extent of what they’re planning on doing. If the show deals with a specific subject, research it. Nobody else, especially the higher ups, wants to do that work. Do it on your own without anyone asking. When it comes up in the conversation, you’re able to bring the world there.

Different shows have different processes. Some like story pitches that have a beginning, middle and end of a pitch. That can be overwhelming for certain people. It’s a skill you have to continue to develop. Sometimes your pitch doesn’t work, but at least there’s something in the space and world you did that allows for another idea to be generated off of that.

Find a senior writer in the room, be friends with that person and just check in off the record to ask for feedback. Different rooms have different vibes and landmines to watch out for. Have someone that seems sympathetic. Just pull them aside during coffee or lunch and be like, hey, how am I doing. Usually there’s a sympathetic soul that totally gets it, but they’re not going to give advice out of the blue if you don’t ask.

The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to wgfoundation.org.


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.

 

Murder She Wrote – Women Who Write Crime

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

With approximately 60% of TV crime procedural viewership and 80% of crime literature being consumed by females, women have a very strong interest in crime drama. The Writers Guild Foundation explored this passion for crime procedurals and serial crime dramas by bringing in three highly successful female writers and creators to share their experiences in the genre.

Diane Frolov (CHICAGO MED, BOSCH, THE SOPRANOS), Judith McCreary (NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, SECRETS AND LIES, LAW & ORDER: SVU) and Chris Levinson (TYRANT, TOUCH, LAW & ORDER) spoke candidly about the craft, challenges, research and influences of writing TV crime drama.

WHY WOMEN LOVE THIS GENRE

We hide ourselves and observe and plot because we can’t always get to places directly. There’s an identification with looking at characters and how they get what they want.

A lot of it has to do with that we are by far mostly the victims and we’re trying to learn what not to do. It’s interesting because on SVU, the largest audience was girls 12 to 17. They were consuming the show and it was perhaps was in order to go that’s not going to happen to me.

IN TV PILOTS, WHY IS IT THAT WOMEN TEND TO BE THE VICTIMS

In pilots, there’s a shorthand. If you discover a dead body in the opening, you don’t want to be raising questions that deviate from your pilot story. So if it was a man, that already raises different questions as far as breaking the story. Who was able to overpower him? It’s not the norm. It’s not what we’re used to. We’re used to finding a dead woman in a field, in a trunk or a refrigerator. So in a certain way we’ve grown so accustom to it that we can just move past it. It says a lot that we can find a dead, mutilated woman and it doesn’t give us pause.

EVER WRITE SOMETHING WHERE YOU SAY, WHERE DID THAT COME FROM IN ME? AM I OKAY? SHOULD I GO TO THERAPY?

You discover places in yourself that you hadn’t looked at before. Experiencing that and being on the set with that can be very hard. When you actually write something on the page and, oh, this is fun. When you’re on set and you know it’s pretend, but it is still going on in front of you, you can feel really revolted.

HOW TO SWITCH GEARS BETWEEN STYLES OF SHOWS

A lot of what we write are mysteries even if they’re not “mystery, mysteries.” You’re still creating the same frame of what is this about, who is this person, what do they want and you’re asking those same questions. Those are the shows that really pull you in when they have those mysteries going. It’s not a big jump.

TIPS ON STRUCTURING A PROCEDURAL

You need drive. You have your dead body. You need to discover things about your dead body. You need people who care about that person being dead. You need to have the drive to solve whatever the case may be, but also make the audience care as much about that dead body as the people who are reflecting on who that person was. That is the difficult thing to do.

You have to do something to connect with the audience or you lose them and they’ll say, “Who cares.” It’s one thing FORENSIC FILES does very well. They take real cases and as you listen to the people who work on the case, you can see why they cared so much even though they have many other cases to do.

NAVIGATING BEING THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM

You’re often going to have to fight to be heard. Remember by being in the room, you’ve been invited to the table and have earned that seat. It is without a doubt harder, but don’t let it deter you.

GROWING YOUR WRITING CAREER

If you want to write, produce or direct, film school isn’t necessarily the way to do it. Being a PA or assistant and working your way up is the best training you’ll ever get. Because film school, when they take your $100,000 or more, is not going to give you the benefit of working for peanuts while learning so much by being on sets and in the offices discovering how things work.

What’s the pecking order? What are you supposed to do? You’re meeting all the people who can give you your next job and your next job and your next job. Pretty soon you’ve learned it all.

HOW TO PITCH A PROCEDURAL

Leading with character is always wise. Go in and tell a personal story, why do I want to do this show, why this idea. If you make it personal, already they’re leaning in. Then pitch the tease. It should be exciting and it should whet their appetite. Then talk a little bit about the show and walk through the characters. After that, walk through the pilot story.

Have a pitch no longer than 20 minutes. If they have questions, you have done your job. With cable they expect you to have the season mapped out. They expect you to really know where you’re going. Once you’ve done that, they’ll ask how can you get us to a season two. Go in knowing. If it’s a procedural, know your rules.

KEEPING VILLAINS INTERESTING

A big pet peeve for the speakers is when you have a villain who is just crazy. You have to look at your villain the same way as you look at your lead. They need to be just as interesting. What makes that person behave the way that they do in the same way as what makes your lead behave the way that they do, they’re human. They’re the hero in their own story. Keep that in mind.

GETTING THE FACTS AND PROCEDURES RIGHT WHEN WRITING CRIME

Research, research, research and read real cases. You can use that as a basis for your writing. There are textbooks you can buy including Practical Guide to Homicide Investigation and Practical Guide to Sex-Related Homicide Investigation. Some police departments have programs for civilians where you can drive with officers and learn procedures like how you enter a house and how you do a variety of things as a police officer or investigator. It’s a great way to learn it so you can visualize it when you’re writing.

You must get the law right. Before you get it right, get your story up to speed. Get a great story then you can always go back and find the accurate procedural elements to it.

 The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to wgfoundation.org.


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.