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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS LOOKING TO MAKE THEIR START?

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

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

Didn’t read Part 1? It’s HERE


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

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Craig Silverstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?

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

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

WHEN DID YOUR WRITING CAREER REALLY START TO TAKE OFF?

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

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

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

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

TELL US ABOUT THAT FIRST WRITING JOB.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB?

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

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

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

TELL US ABOUT MAKING YOUR DECISION TO GET INTO SCREENWRITING.

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

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

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU GOT TO LA?

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

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

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET REPRESENTATION AS A WRITER?

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

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

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AS A SCREENWRITER?

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

WHAT DID THAT LEAD TO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE TO ASPIRING WRITERS ?

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

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

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

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Jacque Edmonds Cofer

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Jacque Edmonds Cofer

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

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

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

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

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

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

WHAT DID THE WRITING PROGRAM INVOLVE?

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

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

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

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER ABC?

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

FROM MARTIN, WHERE DID THE PATH TAKE YOU?

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

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

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A STAFF WRITER?

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

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

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

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

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

DO YOU PREFER TO READ SPECS OR ORIGINAL PILOTS?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

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

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?

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

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

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

HOW DID YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB COME ABOUT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

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

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


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

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Kellie Griffin

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, Kellie Griffin photopersistence, hard work and not giving up.

A one day gig as an audience page started writer Kellie Griffin’s path that took her from receptionist to writers’ assistant to writing for House of Payne and Reed Between the Lines.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

An audience page, but that was for a day.  I moved out here in March of 2000. My sister came out to visit me and we got tickets in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater to go to a show taping. Once we went to the taping, I asked the audience page if they were hiring, they said no but you can send your resume. I saw that somebody from the actual show came up and sat in the audience and I tapped them and I asked if they were hiring and they said no, but you can send your resume. That night I sent my resume to both places.

I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months and then the audience people called first. They were hiring but it was like $8 an hour.   I turned it down. And then some friends were like, “No you gotta call them back and take the job because then you’ll at least be in the building. “

While I was there, I ran into the same person I tapped on the shoulder a couple months before with the show. And they said, “Well, we didn’t call you because we didn’t have anything, but if you want to send your resume again, you can.” So I sent it again. And the next day they called. I ended up the receptionist by that Thursday and that was the Parkers on UPN.

WHAT DID THAT POSITION LEAD TO?

I completed the whole second season at the Parkers and then a writers’ assistant didn’t return the next season and they asked me if I was interested in being a writers’ assistant. I didn’t know what a writers’ assistant did, but I was like, “Okay.”

I was a writers’ assistant for two seasons. Which was the best job I’ve ever had because you sit in the room with the writers and you get to hear how the stories are being broken down. When people are pitching jokes, you hear the execs say why they like it or why they don’t like it. So I’m just in there typing and just absorbing it all. It was an awesome experience.

WHEN DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY TO WRITE FOR A SHOW?

The Parkers got the announcement the show was going to be cancelled in the 5th season. The creator let all the assistants write an episode. That was it, I wrote my first episode. That put me in the Writers Guild. And then the show was cancelled and then I just went on from there being a writers’ assistant on different shows.

HOW DID YOU THEN GET THE POSITION WITH TYLER PERRY’S HOUSE OF PAYNE?

One day, clocking into work, I got a random phone call from Reuben Cannon. Reuben Cannon is a casting director turned producer. So he says that Tyler Perry was looking to do a TV show and was looking for writers and he had gotten my name from Ralph Farquhar. Ralph Farquhar was Executive Producer of The Parkers and Second Time Around, the two shows I worked on when I first started in the business.

They asked me to send something that Tyler could read and it had to be Tyler’s stuff. He had a whole bunch of stage plays that he had done that were on DVD. So I watched all his DVDs in like a day. One of them, Meet the Browns, at the end of the play, there’s a funeral. So I decided to write a script that starts with the reading of the will. I put jokes in there that I would never, ever put in my own stuff, because it was going to him and based on what I saw of his plays, what he likes. I got a phone call within a week, that Tyler wants to meet me. He loved it, said I captured his voice.

He asked me if I had any other friends that wrote and he said, “Well, can you get some people and meet me at my house?” So I gathered some people. We went out to his house in Malibu and sat there and talked about his idea and basically in his living room came up with the idea for House of Payne. He asked me if me and my friends could write him 10 episodes and just get them to him. I was like, “Sure.”

He started this new model, called the 10/90 model now. So he presented the 10 episodes. They had shot them and everything. He presented the ten episodes and basically said I guarantee your ratings will hit this number. If it doesn’t, I walk away, if it does, you’ll owe me 90 more. That’s kinda how it started.

It surpassed the number so they gave him 90 episodes.  He asked me could I come to Atlanta. So I basically relocated to Atlanta for like 3 years back and forth. We hired some local writers in Atlanta and then the writers I was already working with here stayed here and then we did this speakerphone thing all day long.

So I was literally running a room simultaneously on two different coasts on the speakerphone, asking people in L.A. if they had any feedback and asking people in Atlanta what they wanted to say. And that’s how we went over every single script.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

Just recognize that everybody’s journey is different. There is no formula to it. And you can’t compare yourself to this person that came in and got a job in a month and this other person that’s been here for 3 years and is still trying.

Don’t say I’m too old to do this. I think I was 32. I mean I had a Masters Degree. I had a whole other career up until this point. I had to humble myself and get coffee for people, and do things and type. It worked out. My mom was initially upset because she was like, “What are you doing? Why are you answering phones? You have a master’s degree.” But cut two years later when I sold a show and paid for the house and all that stuff and she was like, “Oh, okay.”

Be a sponge. That’s what I did. Sit in the writers’ room and just listen, absorb everything. If anybody can get a job as a writers’ assistant as your first job if you want to be a writer, it’s the best job to have.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Laurie Scheer Part 2

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

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

Today we continue our visit with Laurie Scheer, a former VP of Programming for WE: Women’s Entertainment. She has worked as an assistant, d-girl, and producer for ABC, Viacom, Showtime, and AMC-Cablevision. Laurie has been an instructor at universities across the U.S. from UCLA to Yale and is currently part of the faculty at UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies Writing Department. As an advocate for writers, Laurie shares insights from her years of working with both professional and aspiring writers.

WHAT ARE THE BIG MISTAKES YOU SEE WRITERS MAKING?

The biggest mistake is the fear of success. I will see the talent in a script and this happened to me constantly at the network. This script is great. I can’t wait to get this thing made, however, we just need to change a slight subplot because we can’t shoot it in one place. It’s not going to change the story, we just need a couple of scenes changed.

It’s going to take the writer a couple of days, maybe an afternoon. And weeks will go by. “Hey did you get to that?” “No, I didn’t get to it.” And you realize that they know all they have to do is that very little thing and that script is going to go. But there’s this fear of success among professional writers and aspiring writers. I see it all the time and it’s just a shame.

And I can see the person’s talent is really, really good, but in their own minds, they’re so scared, they’re so afraid that it’s actually going to go to pilot. Then what? Their entire life changes. I think they have to be ready for success or ready to move to the next step.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WRITER?

I know it’s so overused, but passion, genuine passion. There’s a difference. You can tell when someone is just trending, just looking at what might be happening and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, yeah I’ve got the next great whatever it is.”

I really think when someone has a combination of passion and intelligence about what the market is. It isn’t just a naive passion, there’s that level of authenticity that just shines through certain scripts and projects.

WHAT CAN WRITERS DO TO SET THEMSELVES APART?

They really have to have a brand. I know it’s sort of become a cliché and everybody says it, but we truly have to understand why your story about the Alaskan wilderness and a journey that was taking place there is better than, different than, more effective than, more compelling than the other 2 or 3 that I have on my desk at the same time. So the person who has their brand down, understands who they are, presents themself in that professional manner, is going to be more appealing and someone I want to work with than the person who’s just submitting another script on this topic.

Again it goes back to that passion, that you can tell if a person is really constructing this from that point of I want to resonate to the audience versus I want to write this to make a lot of money, and nothing wrong with that.  If it’s a commercial project, that sometimes is the project that goes. But a writer on their own can differentiate themselves from others by doing quality work, presenting the project with a brand that I’m going to remember.

You want to get to the point where, often we need writers to rewrite projects and so if you’ve presented that wildlife type of topic, the next time, 6 months down the road, two years, whatever that I get a project in, but it needs to be rewritten, I know I can call that person. It’s like oh, yeah, she’s the one who’s really good on this, I have to get her to do that rewrite. That’s the point you want to get to as a writer.

WHAT CAN WRITERS DO TO BE MORE PREPARED FOR THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS?

I think going to conferences like the conferences at Screenwriters World Conference West, and listening to the panels and understanding what development people do, I think it’s really good for them to be exposed to why your script is being rejected. Why your characters aren’t working. And they start to understand the process, so they understand the person they’re pitching to hears 12 to 15 to 20 pitches a day. Put yourself on the other side of the table. I know writing scripts, it’s not easy, but it’s also not easy for the executive who has the pressure of the budget, of is it going to make money, are we gonna look like an idiot if we produce this idea.

They can only green light a certain amount of projects so your script really has to be ready to go or near to that. And if you’re exchanging even that pitch with them or a meeting, they’re going to remember you. It’s that 6 degrees of separation thing where all right, not now, but I remember this writer and she was really great and her project was good, but it wasn’t what we needed. I hope she comes back. I hope she queries again or calls or emails because I’d like to see whatever she has next and that really does happen.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS

If you can find even on Craigslist where someone shooting a web series or they’re shooting an independent film, volunteering to help them rewrite their script or work with them if they’re open to that because then it’s produced. You can then use that as I helped to script doctor this project. You’re not going to get any money, but you’re going to get that opportunity to rewrite something.

I think reading scripts is a really good thing to do. It’s not writing, but you’re reading other people’s work and you can see and compare yourself.

And the formatting is really important. A lot of my students, a lot of young writers are just, “Oh, I don’t have to do that.” But it is so important that your format is exactly the way it should be, because it shows your level of professionalism. The minute you read something that doesn’t have that, you can tell.

ANY OTHER THOUGHTS?

The words that you have, the information, the scripts that you have, it’s going to help someone down the way.   Don’t give up.  Keep writing.

Laurie’s book The Writer’s Advantage: A Toolkit for Mastering Your Genre explores ways to preserve good storytelling within the 21st century transmedia marketplace and helps writers to prepare and develop their projects.