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 Liz Tigelaar, Part 2

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

tigelaar headshotWriter Liz Tigelaar (Life Unexpected, Bates Motel, The Astronaut Wives Club) rose through the television ranks, starting as an intern at the soap opera, General Hospital, then going on to work as a PA, a script coordinator, assistant to Winnie Holzman and a writers’ assistant before breaking in as a television writer. Continuing an interview that began last week, Liz shares the experiences and advice she’s learned along the way.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION ASPIRING WRITERS ASK YOU?

People ask how to break in. I remember asking that when I was in college. I remember being on the cusp of graduating and being like, how do you get a writing job? You need an agent. Well, how do you get an agent? You need a writing job. And I’m like, I don’t understand. And it’s true, you kind of don’t understand. And in some ways there’s no rhyme or reason to.

I think a lot of people come out as an assistant. After being an assistant they might get an opportunity on a show, like a freelance. And then once they get put on staff, agents come out and will represent them because they already have a job. It’s proven that someone’s interested in them and their writing and in giving them this opportunity.

I think that now it’s so different because with technology and YouTube and with how easy it is to go out and shoot stuff, you can be Lena Dunham and shoot a web series and you can shoot a movie and suddenly you can change your own fate. You can make people aware of you and you can get your voice out there and so that’s something different than however many years ago when I came out here.

I also think that the other piece of advice I would have is if you want to be a writer, write. It sounds obvious, but a lot of people want to be writers, and who wouldn’t want to be a writer? It’s the same way people want to be actors.

Like, it’s amazing and it’s incredibly satisfying and what’s human about it is we all have a story to tell. We could all be writers. Every person on the planet has a story worth telling. Of course, how you tell it matters. And what the story is matters. There’s writer potential in all of us. The difference is some people do it, some people don’t. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people hate it and do it anyway. I think that becomes the difference. It’s like, if you want to write, write.

You have to keep writing. You have to be willing to dig in on something and get notes and keep the process of making it better. It’s like the difference between running one mile in of a bunch of different marathons and being like, “Hey, I ran one mile in 26 marathons.” That’s very different than running 26 miles in one marathon and being like, “Wow, I really went through it. I’ve experienced ups and downs.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS TAKING THEIR FIRST GENERAL OR STAFFING MEETINGS?

It’s a lot like dating. You want to be cool. I used to go in like really, really enthusiastic. A lot of energy. I think it was a little too much. I genuinely felt that way. I was so excited to be there. I had so many ideas.

I noticed once I kind of settled down, I started getting offers because I wasn’t putting so much pressure on myself. I was looking at it more like, okay, I’ll tell you why you should hire me and you tell me why I should choose you.

You don’t want to seem too desperate. People want what they can’t have and they want to know that they’re getting someone great, not like you’re totally desperate for a job.

For me, one of the big things that helped was being able to be myself. Like when I used to go into meetings in the beginning, I would always wear meeting outfits. My parents, when they would come out to LA, they would buy me nicer clothes to go to meetings. They were totally nice outfits but I felt like I was dressing up. When I started just wearing my normal clothes, I felt like I was more comfortable in meetings. I could be more myself. And I think that’s the biggest thing.

WHAT ABOUT PITCHING IN THESE MEETINGS?

Walking in, especially in general meetings, it’s less about the ideas you pitch or about selling yourself. It’s just about hitting it off with a person. It is like dating. It’s like making a person invested in you and want to kind of root for you and suggest you when there’s a job available and then when it’s a show meeting, you should always be prepared. You should know the show really well. You should have ideas.

How you pitch those ideas kind of matters. I think you should not come across as like, crazy pitching person. I think it’s more like finding a way to seamlessly show you have ideas without launching into pitching. And sometimes a good way to do that is to ask questions.

If I were going to meet on Bloodline, I would have very specific questions about what they’re going to do in season 2 that would show that I really watched season 1 and that I had a lot of thoughts about it.

I sometimes think asking in the form of questions can be good because then you don’t pitch and have something not land. You can say something like, “Where are you going with this character? I can see it going this way or this way, like what are you guys thinking?” And then once they say it, you can kind of riff on that. It can feel a little more natural like a conversation and less like I’m pitching to you right now.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS LOOKING TO BREAK IN?

If you’ve gone to college, don’t be afraid to use your alumni connections or any connections in general. I went to Ithaca and I’m really involved with the Ithaca alumni program.

Asking people to read your stuff is a really big deal. People taking the time to read your work, that’s a big favor you’re asking of them. Save that for people who are really invested in you. And if you ask someone to read your stuff, be really specific about what you want, like think about why you are asking them.

Are you asking them just because you want them to think it’s terrific and pass it along to their agent, because if that’s so, you better be handing them something really, really, really good that doesn’t need any work. So it’s kind of like, know what your intention is. Be respectful of people’s time and what way they want to help.

I would say people should absolutely network and utilize your resources. Just be respectful of what people are offering. And approach in a way that feels doable, like you’re not asking too much so that people want to keep helping.


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 Liz Tigelaar, Part 1

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

tigelaar headshotAspiring 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 Liz Tigelaar (Life Unexpected, Bates Motel, The Astronaut Wives Club) rose through the television ranks, from intern to PA to script coordinator to writers’ assistant before breaking in as a television writer.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I went to Ithaca College and I originally had kind of been thinking I was going to go into theater and music. They had such a great Communications program and I was really interested in television, but I didn’t know what I would do in it. I was not a big film buff by any means and as my time in college progressed, I got into creative writing too.

It was actually my mom who really encouraged me. She’s a wonderful writer and she said, “You love to tell stories. You like to entertain people. You love television. Why don’t you try writing?” And so I just kind of decided to give it a try and I wasn’t that great at it in the beginning but I did really like it and I loved TV.

So it just kind of fit. Ithaca had a program where you could come out to LA and intern. I was a huge soaps fan so I interned at General Hospital and just loved it. And it was weird because I actually just worked on a show, Astronaut Wives Club, that was on the same lot and I was in the same building on the same floor as where my internship was. And it was so cool to be back there and to be on a show, looking at my old internship spot in the lobby where I would sit and answer the phones and I was like, “Wow. If anyone had told me twenty years later I’d be back here, I don’t know that I would have believed them.”

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

When I graduated, I interned at Dawson’s Creek right as that show was taking off. That really was what started and shaped my career. I started as an intern and about 6 weeks later, I was offered a job as a post PA. I did that for a year and then moved down the next year to the writer’s office, which is where I really wanted to be.

I was a script coordinator and then I was a writers’ assistant. And I wrote a freelance for them at the time with another woman who worked on the show, we were writing partners.

The freelance afforded me kinda picking what my next job would be. I didn’t get on staff from it, but I could be a little more choosy about my next assistant job. I went and I took some time off, kind of looking for the perfect job and contemplating what I wanted to do and then Maggie Friedman, who’d been working on Dawson’s and had gone on to Once and Again, called me and said that Winnie Holzman was looking for an assistant and it was right as Winnie was doing the show and doing Wicked and I ended up getting to be her assistant for a year.

That was incredible and really kind of changed things for me because Winnie’s such an iconic voice and such a known writer and a wonderful person and a person who really is able to infuse herself in everything she does, and it was like being in grad school.

AFTER WORKING WITH WINNIE, WHERE DID YOU GO NEXT?

Then I went out for staffing, I didn’t get anything again and was looking for a writing job, but if not, then an assistant job. And then I saw the pilot for American Dreams, I just remember the end of the teaser was Brittany Snow playing Meg, watching American Bandstand like it was all she wanted in the world and I felt like I was watching her watch that and this was all I wanted.

I was just like, the show is incredible. The show is a fit. Somehow it just felt like me to me. And I was like, I’ll do any job on it. I’ll go back to being a PA, I’ll be a writers’ assistant, anything. I just want to be on this show from the start. And I was lucky enough my manager at the time knew the showrunner and so she got me in as an assistant.

And from there, when they hired me they said if we get a back 9, we’ll give you an episode to write. I wrote that episode and then, myself and the other writers’ assistant, we both got to write episodes and we both got promoted. It was a really kind of nurturing, familyish like fun, really special place and a group that’s really stuck together. That was my first job on staff and I got to be on that staff for the run of the show.

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET REPRESENTATION?

I had a writing partner at the time and her mom was a very high up executive in the business. A really wonderful person and she sent our material out to her peers and people she knew.

She wanted us to go to Endeavor at the time. We basically went in there and met and they signed us. Without her, I don’t think we would have been on anybody’s radar. It was definitely like a who you know situation. I will say, I’ve been with them for like 18 years now. It stuck.

WHEN YOU WERE FIRST BREAKING IN, WAS THERE A PIECE OF ADVICE THAT REALLY STUCK WITH YOU?

Yes, a couple things, Jon Feldman, who was working on Dawson’s at the time, gave me advice like, if you ask someone for notes, be willing to get notes. Because a lot of people ask for notes, but what they really mean is like, “Hey, tell me it’s good and pass it along to your agent.”

Or you give somebody notes and then they kinda want to argue what they were trying to do versus what you thought and why you should feel differently about it. He gave me advice that was just like, do the notes. If you ask for notes, do the notes. If you do the notes, you’ll get better.

This is not necessarily advice that I got, but advice that I learned along the way. I think it’s really easy, especially when you’re an assistant, you want to break in so bad and you’re working so hard, I think as different generations have kind of come up, the expectations for this has even increased this idea that like, you deserve this. Like I do my time and I deserve this.

I think that that can be kind of like looking at your career through the wrong lens in a weird way. I feel like someone hires you to do a job as an assistant, do that job as best you can. Don’t worry about what you deserve or what you think it will lead to or how long you’re doing it for.

If you do that job well, whoever gave you that job, will help you out for the rest of your life and you will eventually get where you want to be. I think it’s when you think you’re above a job or just want to hurry through it, that it can take so much longer.

I mean I look at working for Winnie Holzman. I probably worked for Winnie for 9 months. She never read my writing. I never asked her to. Winnie has been my advocate for I would say 12 years now and it’s been amazing and I know people because of her and I’ve gotten jobs because of her, but I never had to ask her for anything. All I had to do was do the job she asked me to do.

Coming soon – Part Two as Liz shares her advice about taking meetings, pitching and the most common questions she is asked by aspiring 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.

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 12/8/12

Latest News About Writers Doing Better Than We Are

  • Liz Tigelaar (LIFE UNEXPECTED) is redoing her ABC drama pilot JONESES for Bravo. (A family with a secret moves to the burbs. Ooh!)
  • Krista Vernoff (GREY’S ANATOMY) is writing the pilot for RITA for Bravo, which will be adapted from a Danish drama series. (A teacher raises her teenage children while facing such vicissitudes as bureaucracy and overprotected parents at her schoo. Ooh, ooh!)
  • Michael Caleo (the upcoming MALAVITA) is writing a pilot for a rebooted version of IRONSIDE for NBC. (Genius cop in wheelchair torments his team by actings even jerkier than Dr. House while solving crimes. Oy!)
  • Alex Winter (actor in BILL AND TED, etc.) & Steven Pearl (?)  are writing the pilot for RIGHTS OF BILL for AMC. (Small town sheriff creates his own militia, becoming an outlaw while remaining a lawman. (Oy, oy!)

Sorry. We were working toward a punchline here with the “ooh” and “oy” thing, but it didn’t pan out because we couldn’t find our ending “Ahh.” Depressing, isn’t it? Hmm, wonder if instead of done deals we should write about the concepts that didn’t get sold? Like, you know, the good ones?