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 LaToya Morgan, Part 2

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

LaToya-Turn-Director-Chair-300x273

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.

A commitment to hard work combined with a desire to always become better at her craft, helped drive the success of television writer LaToya Morgan (TURN, SHAMELESS, COMPLICATIONS). She shares with TVWriter.com her advice about breaking in, taking meetings and always striving to learn and improve as a writer.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN BREAKING IN?

The biggest hurdle was getting that first shot, like getting someone to say yes. And so once that yes came from the Warner Bros. Workshop, I think that was what opened a lot of doors. So I’m always incredibly grateful to the Warner Bros. Workshop and Chris Mack especially, for seeing the potential I had as a writer and giving me the opportunity to show it.

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

When I was in film school at AFI, one of my teachers was a man named Leonard Schrader, he wrote Kiss of the Spider Woman. His brother Paul Schrader wrote Taxi Driver. A great writer. Hardcore, I loved him. He would always say to me, “Why are you making me read this shit?” Literally that is what he would say. I’d be like, oh my God. But what the note behind the note was, was to get into the story faster. Grab you reader immediately. And that’s what I took away from that.

And I think all the teachers I had at AFI were really great at getting you to get to what the core and the heart of the story is. That’s probably the thing that I hear most often in the back of my head when I’m writing. Yeah, like why are you making me read this shit so stop meandering and talking about the flowers and all this other stuff, get to the core of it. It goes to this old quote from Billy Wilder that I love, which is, “Grab the reader by the throat and never let them go.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE ABOUT GENERAL OR STAFFING MEETINGS?

As far as prep, I always try to know who I’m meeting with. Especially in this day and age, there’s no excuse not to Google someone before you meet with them. If you’re meeting with a network executive, try to find out what shows that person covers and then also what shows for that network that you would be good for. Know that ahead of time. Don’t wait for them to tell you, you tell them.

And my best piece of advice for interviewing is really simple, which is to be yourself. I know that sounds sort of cliché, but to me, the only time I’ve ever truly been nervous in a meeting is when I was trying to guess what I thought that person wanted me to say instead of me just saying what I think and who I am.

It’s so much easier and it just cuts down on the anxiety. You’re always going to have butterflies before you go in, but just know that the person sitting across the desk from you, they want to have a good meeting too, so engage with them, talk to them.

I just spoke to someone the other day who asked a similar question because they were going to be up for the Warner Bros. Fellowship and I think it sounds really simple or like you should know this, but don’t be afraid to go with the flow of the conversation. So if you’re talking and you find out they like a show you also like, don’t be afraid to go on that tangent for a little bit before getting back to the business of whatever you are there to talk about.

AS A WRITER, WHO INSPIRES YOU?

My favorite writer is John Steinbeck.   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. So I love that.

I am not a snob when it comes to storytelling, so whatever the genre or medium I love it. I love all kinds of sci-fi stuff like Battlestar, X-Files and then I love something gritty like Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, fantasy stuff. I’m a big comic book person so I read a lot of comics. Cross genres I have a lot of influences, so I would say drink it all in. All of it. Plays. All that good stuff.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS THAT YOU GET ASKED BY ASPIRING WRITERS?

The most common question I get is how do you break in. And I can say as a person who has thought that myself, like when I was at AFI, people would come in and talk on a panel and I would be like, just tell me the secret of how you broke in. Just tell it to me. I know you’re keeping it from me somehow. Just tell me where the secret door is so that I can get in.

My breaking in story is so much different from the other person’s breaking in story. It’s just right place, right time. Luck. All that. I never really truly understood that until I was sitting on the opposite side of the table. I think that the answer for that particular person’s story will be different from mine, but what you can do is always be prepared for the moment.

So before I broke in, I was always writing a lot of material. I wrote several TV specs, a couple of features, plays. I wrote short stories. I just loved telling stories so it didn’t feel like work to me. It was so much fun. So when the time came for me to have that meeting with my manager, he was like you have all this material you haven’t shown anyone and I was like, yeah. And he was like; I love you, because I just had this arsenal of stuff. So I would recommend that you just write whatever strikes you, whatever interests you, in whatever medium that is. So if it’s a short story do that, if it’s a play, do that. Just keep writing.

You have to be prepared and it also helps you become better as a writer, so that was my obsession. I always want to be better as a writer.  It’s like the 10,000 Hour Rule from Malcolm Gladwell. I felt like hopefully I’ve passed the 10,000 hours by now. Ever since I was a little kid, I was always writing. After AFI I continued to write more and more and more and just get better every time I wrote something.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS TRYING TO BREAK IN?

Watch a lot of TV if you want to be in television. I’ve heard people say they want to write TV, but they don’t really watch it. It doesn’t make sense to me. So I think that immersing yourself in the shows that you love and then sometimes watching a show that you don’t love and trying figure out why you don’t like it is a good way just to prepare yourself.

Writers are always about output, output, output. You still also have to have some input. What books have you read? What movies have you seen? It’s important to write and continue to write. Always be writing, but you also have to be reading and you also have to be watching television and inputing as much as you output.


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 LaToya Morgan, Part 1

LaToya-Turn-Director-Chair-300x273

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 LaToya Morgan’s childhood love for reading, writing and old movies took her on a path that led from film school at AFI to participating in the Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop and working on the writing staffs of TV shows including TURN, SHAMELESS and COMPLICATIONS.

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

When I was a little kid I would read a lot and write a lot. So my biggest influence was probably Stephen King. I have fond memories of getting to the scary parts of his books and going into my brother’s room and making him sit with me while I read it. So I always loved books and I always wanted to be a writer.

The first story that I ever wrote was literally like it was a dark and stormy night. I love suspenseful stories. Still to this day, a lot of the things that I work on, they end up having some sort of suspense element or spy element, in addition to family. That’s the other thing that I write the most about.

I went to undergrad at UC Irvine. And then I went to film school at AFI. The Film Conservatory was amazing. It’s probably the most influential thing that happened to me in my writing career because I really got to dig in and hone my writing. There were wonderful professors there who were really influential in my growth as a writer.

DID YOU HAVE ANY INTERNSHIPS WHILE IN COLLEGE?

I interned at Paramount, which was great. As a kid I watched a lot of old movies. I was a huge black and white movie fan. So like SUNSET BOULEVARD, I would drive the little cart through that gate and I’d be like, oh my God, this is where Billy Wildler shot SUNSET BOULEVARD and so it was a lot of fun to do. The other internship I got was at an agency as a floater, which was my nightmare, because any time one of the assistants had to go to the bathroom or they were out for the day, I was on their desk and that’s where I learned that I’m not good at rolling calls.

The biggest thing I learned doing those internships was about how the business works, especially working at the agency. I got a chance to read all the scripts that were going out from their clients. I got to learn what writers were working, what stuff was selling. It was really great to just digest a bunch of writing and you could see how different people were working out their stories.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

My first real job in the industry was working as an assistant in the development department of a very small production company. I got to read all the scripts and sometimes sit in when the producers would meet with different writers, but that company in particular was all about adapting books, so it was interesting to see the writers’ writing samples that would come in who were up for pitching for those projects.

My favorite job was when I worked for Disney. I worked in the archives where they had all the props from different movies like MARY POPPINS and the costume that Michael Jackson wore in CAPTAIN EO. All that stuff was in the archives and I worked specifically in the photo library where there were millions of pieces of photography from behind the scenes of all their movies and all their television shows, so it was really great for a film nerd like me to be in the vault.

WHAT IS YOUR FIRST WRITING OPPORTUNITY?

When I was working for Disney I would go home at night and be writing my scripts and falling asleep at my computer and then getting back up again and going to work and doing it all over again. I ended up applying for different fellowships and contests as they came up and one of those was the Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop. I submitted a pilot script and a spec and I ended up getting into the Warner Bros. Workshop, so it was great.

I applied two times. The first time I applied to the workshop, I made it to the top 5%. And I was really mad. I was like, man, I wanted to get into the workshop and I’m this close. For that I wrote a DEXTER. The spec that ended up getting me in was a spec that I wrote for SONS OF ANARCHY.

The great thing about the workshop is that they run it sort of like a simulated writers room so you get to learn what it’s like to do a story area or write an outline and then write a script. You get feedback from the director of the program, Chris Mack, who is a mastermind and genius and he sort of acts as a showrunner and helps you with your ideas and to flesh out your script.

When you’re in the program you sort of get a taste of what it’s going to be like. We have all these great speakers come in, from network executives to other writers to people who have gone through the program and we talk about what it’s like to be in the room and what it is like to work with the network, all the stuff that you might need to know when you get out of the program. At the end of the program you go out on all these meetings. They send your material to different shows that are up for staffing and hopefully you get one of those jobs.

A script that I had written came to the attention of John Wells Productions.  I got a chance to have a meeting with their executives and it went really well. There was a job opening on SHAMELESS on Showtime and so I got a chance to interview for that with John and the entire writing staff of SHAMELESS, which was probably the most intimidating interview I’d ever been on. It was crazy and fun and I ended up getting the job, which was great. That was my first job, staff writer, SHAMELESS, John Wells. Crazy. Amazing.

HOW DID YOU GET REPRESENTATION?

I would write all the time, even while I had my job so one of the things I applied for was the Nicholl Fellowship. I made it to the top 5% and when you get to that level, they’ll send your stuff out to different agents and managers to see if anyone’s interested in your material. One of the managers read my stuff and we sat down and had a meeting. Matt Horwitz was the manager and Dave Brown, they worked at a small company at the time. They now work at Echo Lake Entertainment.

They read my material. They loved it. We hit it off and they really had a vision for where they thought they could take my career. I was all on board for that and I signed with them. So I had a manager before I did the Warner Bros. Workshop, but I ended up getting the agent after the Warner Bros. Workshop. They send your material to a bunch of agents once you’re almost done with the program.

I wasn’t even really thinking about an agent because I was so busy focusing on trying to get that first job. So once I got staffed on SHAMELESS, then all the agencies, they were reading my material at the time, but that sort elevated it.  I met with a bunch of different agencies. I ended up selecting CAA. Elizabeth Newman is my point person there. I was just so impressed by how smart she was and by how thoughtful she was. She is such a fighter and I love that about her, so I definitely was very excited to have her join the team.

Coming soon – more from LaToya including her advice about breaking in, taking meetings and fueling your creativity.


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 11/30/12

Latest News About Writers Doing Better Than We Are

  • Rumors abound that Kevin Costner’s 1995 feature film fiasco, WATERWORLD, is headed for Syfy as a series. No writers have been mentioned, so, hey, now’s the time to put your hat in the ring. (In other words, how long will it take you to write a complete spec science fiction script to prove your genius expertise adequacy?)
  • Chris Cantwell & Chris Rodgers (SHADOW RUNNERS, feature film) are writing HALT & CATCH FIRE, a drama about the PC boom in the early ’80s intended as a series on AMC. (In other words, nerds are in, for which we at TVWriter™ give heartfelt thanks.)
  • Alexander Rose’s book, Washington’s Spies) is the basis for Craig Silverstein’s (NIKITA) AMC pilot, TURN. (In other words, why let a good, descriptive name get in the way of confusing TV viewers, right?)
  • It’s official. DOWNTON ABBEY creator Julian Fellowes will write and produce NBC’s THE GILDED AGE, described by the network as “a sweeping epic in the style of DOWNTON ABBEY. (In other words, the U.S. finally gets its own overly-manipulative soap opera about rich people nobody in the audience will be able to stand. Awesome.)