Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With SCANDAL’s Raamla Mohamed – Part One

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.

Hard work and persistence were key for writer Raamla Mohamed as she rose through the ranks from writers’ PA on GREY’S ANATOMY to researcher on OFF THE MAP and SCANDAL. Looking for a deadline to keep her writing on task, Raamla applied to and was accepted into the Disney-ABC Writing Program, which led to her becoming a staff writer on season two of SCANDAL. In addition to writing for SCANDAL, Raamla was a writer on the upcoming ShondaLand show STILL STAR-CROSSED.

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

I worked in Off-Broadway theater in New York. I was an assistant at a theater called 59E59 Theaters. It was a great experience because the theater had just opened and it had three stages, which meant there were a lot of plays coming in and out, so I met a lot of playwrights and actors. I got inspired. I wanted to write, but I didn’t really think that was a real thing a person could do to pay their student loans back.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN ENTERTAINMENT AND HOW DID YOU GET IT?

I went to grad school at USC for writing. It was a two-year program. I liked it because it was very specific to the industry I wanted to work in. You wrote, Writing the Drama Spec, Writing the Drama Pilot, Writing the Feature. That was a great experience. I learned a lot. The best thing I got out of that was that a classmate of mine worked at PRIVATE PRACTICE and heard about an opening for a PA at GREY’S ANATOMY, which I don’t think I would of heard of otherwise because a lot of times people hire people who know someone who know someone. That got me into ShondaLand, which was awesome.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE APPLYING FOR THE DISNEY-ABC WRITING PROGRAM.

On OFF THE MAP I was Jenna Bans’ assistant and she said she would be reading assistants’ materials to staff. I was stressed out about it because I realized I hadn’t written anything in so long. What happened is that she actually hired one of the assistants to be on staff. It was a great wake up call for me, because I had this opportunity that I just blew.

I started writing on the weekends and after work, just anytime I could so I could get some specs. I used the Disney program as a deadline. To be like okay, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ll write these specs and I’ll know that at least I’ll have a chance for that.

I did a MAD MEN spec. I love MAD MEN. I got some MAD MEN scripts. I knew an assistant at one of the agencies who could send them to me. I read those. The other thing I did which I found really helpful, was to go online and look at YouTube clips. There are all these fans who make clips of like Betty and Don’s greatest scenes together. It reminds you of moments and gives you ideas of what to do for your spec.

I wrote a SHAMELESS as my second spec. I think it had only been on for a season, but I really liked that show. I felt that they were very different scripts. MAD MEN is written like Don and Betty enter and then the dialogue. SHAMELESS is more similar to the way we write our show. The action is fun. So I was trying to show a different thing. Then I had a pilot. I think you needed 3 samples. I honestly felt good that I did it, that I didn’t just talk about that I’m going to be a writer then not do anything about it.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIG TAKEAWAYS FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE DISNEY-ABC FELLOWSHIP?

We had a guest speaker talk about what it’s like to be a staff writer and how hours could go by and you realize you haven’t said a word and then you’re in your head and you’re like I’m so stupid, they’re just staring at me, looking at me like why are you so dumb, you’re not saying anything. Then you finally say something and no one really responds. Then you think about okay, now I’m never talking. It was nice to hear that’s a common feeling, that you’re not alone and it’s to be expected.

I think she said, “The silence in your head is louder than it actually is.” That was very helpful to know or else I think in the first year I would have either talked way too much or not at all and just felt paralyzed by not wanting to share my ideas.

ADVICE ON FELLOWSHIP ESSAYS.

Get personal. Don’t write something generic. It’s hard to think about what is the most interesting thing about me. I don’t think people just walk around thinking about that. So I asked my roommate at the time. She was like your dad was from Somalia. I was like, oh, right. Then I just started slowly writing down funny stories that I remembered. Based on that, I crafted an essay around how I got into writing. It’s about me, but it’s about my dad, who spoke very broken English, but we shared a love for TV. There’s a thread in there that says something about me and why I’m here. These are things I don’t actually want to talk about, but I had to go to a place that was personal so they get to the heart of who I am.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE BREAKING IN AS A WRITER?

It’s easier to become a writer if you’re an assistant somewhere, however there are some places that only see assistants as assistants. Luckily ShondaLand isn’t like that, because there are a lot of assistants who have become writers. It is hard for people to make that transition to see you as a writer. In some ways you just have to prove yourself and show them you’re a worthy person.

I like to study. I’d watch the episodes, the cuts, read the scripts. There’s talent and then there’s hard work. What you lack in immediate talent, you can supplement with hard work until the talent increases. I just worked really hard. Anything they’d want me to do. Anything I could help with in any way. We have these things called addendums that post-production needs to play, like the news clips that air underneath the scenes. No one hears them, but they need something and they need to be filmed, so I’d write those. It’s important and it’s something that no one else wants to do, so I would do that. Also, it was a way for them to see my writing. I always encourage other writers to look for places where you can make your showrunner’s life easier. The easier you can make your showrunner’s life, the more valuable you are.

Coming Soon: Part Two with SCANDAL’s Raamla Mohamed as she shares advice on taking meetings, working with agents and managers and finding your way as a writer.


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 Rashad Raisani – Part One

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.

An alum of NBC’s Writers on the Verge, Rashad Raisani originally moved to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming a feature writer, but found television to be a much better fit. He got his first writing job on the USA Network show BURN NOTICE where he rose from staff writer to co-executive producer. He also wrote for WHITE COLLAR and was executive producer on the NBC drama ALLEGIANCE. Currently he is developing projects as part of an overall deal with Universal Television.

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

I think I have always known I wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. We moved around a lot because my dad was in the military. Between the ages of 3 and 10 we were living abroad, so the only connection I had to America, a place where I really didn’t have any memories of actually being, were the TV shows that were the same no matter which base we were living on.

When I’d move to a new place and feel really lonely or displaced because all my friends had changed over, I’d go back to movies and TV shows because they were the one source of comfort that stayed the same no matter where we lived.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

The first thing I did, because I had no other resources, was become an assistant to a literary manager. This guy had exceptional taste and had all these great writers. The first thing he said when I started working for him was, “I want you to read everything that all of my writers have written.”

He had this whole bookshelf full of scripts, so I just read all of them. I saved all the TV people for last because I had no interest in them or television, but the very last script in the entire bunch completely blew my mind and I can even remember where I was when I read it and screaming, “Holy shit,” on a plane when I read this moment. It was by this young story editor on a show called THE SHIELD and the guy’s name was Kurt Sutter. That’s when I started to say, “Wow, I’ve really been sucking it up in movies.” At that time I’d been out here for a about year and not only had I not gotten traction professionally, but artistically and creatively I was struggling with the form of features, specifically the second act of a movie. It was just eternally vexing to me.

When I read that SHIELD script, there was just something so intuitive about how they had broken the story. They had like four or five plots. When one of them started to peter out a little bit, they’d cut to another exciting one. I just thought this is a great way to tell stories. From that moment on I decided okay, I’m going to try TV.

WHERE DID THAT FIRST ASSISTANT JOB LEAD TO?

I kind of fell for all the trappings of the wrong things, meaning an expense account, an office and an assistant of my own. I started working as a literary manager/development executive for two years. On the positive side, I was working in television actively. We were trying to set up projects. We represented some real talent, but on the negative side for my own artistic development, I wasn’t writing. I didn’t write a word for about two years.

WHAT WAS A BIG TURNING POINT IN YOUR WRITING CAREER?

It was a confluence of a few things and kismet played a strange role. For example, when I was temping and unemployed, but was sending scripts out everywhere, I talked to my wife and I said, “Listen, I really think it would be worthwhile for me to be an assistant on a television show.” And she said, “Well, I get it, but you really need to now think about writing. You’ve done the assistant thing for years. It’s been four years and really I want you to rise on your own merits at this point with your own writing.”

We made a deal that there was one script I had read by a guy named Rand Ravich on a show called LIFE. I said if anything opens up, I don’t care if it’s sweeping the floors, I want to work on that show. I think the world of Rand Ravich’s writing and also that script. Wouldn’t you know it that completely out of the blue I get a phone call from Glen Mazzara, who was in THE SHIELD DVD that we watched. He had gotten my resume through a friend of a friend and said he needed an assistant. So I started working for Glen.

That was a big break, just to be working for a bunch of incredible writers. I ended up working for 3 co-executive producers, there was Glen Mazzara, Jonathan Shapiro and Marjorie David, all of whom were exceptional talents and had very different approaches to writing, so I was able to not only make relationships with those incredibly talented and generous people, but also sponge up all their different approaches to the craft.

Within two months of that, I got my first agent. That was another big break. That was because I had sent scripts out, even some of them nine months before, and they just sort of worked their way up at agencies. Within just a few weeks of starting to work on LIFE, I started to meet agencies. Then within a week of that, I got my first showrunner meetings.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB?

BURN NOTICE was my first staff job. I got the job 3 weeks before the writers’ strike. My first Writers Guild meeting was the president of the Guild announcing that we have decided to strike. It was a big bummer, but at the same time at least I felt like being on a young show that had some real promise and I was also a diversity hire to the show so I was free, so I felt like at some point entertainment would have to resume. The strike would have to end and I would have a job waiting for me.

I used the strike to read as many books about spy games and stuff like that that BURN NOTICE was about so that when the writers’ room resumed, I could hopefully have some things to contribute.

WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE BREAKING IN?

One of the greatest pieces of advice was by Glen Mazzara after I came in from my first agency meeting. He said that every meeting you’ll step into, chances are they’ll ask you some version of tell me about yourself, but Glen said nobody wants the facts. They don’t want to know what year you graduated from college, what you majored in.

They want your story and they want to know that you’re the underdog in your own story and your story ideally answers all the factual questions that they need to know and it has some deep crisis/soul kind of moment to it and then it culminates with a triumph and ends up with you on their couch. You give somebody a story like that and you entertain them, you make them like you. They’re going to remember you, which will set you apart from the thousands of meetings they have that month to staff that show.

Coming soon – more from Rashad including what he looks for when hiring writers, advice on getting representation and tips on taking meetings.


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.

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 2/7/14

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Danny Zuker (MODERN FAMILY) has a new overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV. (Cuz MODERN FAMILY is minting money for them and everybody on the staff is worth his weight in gold. Well, more than gold actually. Probably even more than, you know, bitcoins. Where can yrs trly get one of them, huh?)
  • Justin Halpern & Patrick Schumaker (S#*! MY DAD SAID) just made an overall deal with Warner Brothers TV. (Cuz their last show turned to S#*! which means they’ll work for peanuts now. And don’t have to be paid nearly their weight in bitcoins…but don’t worry; their agents are painting a much rosier pic for them cuz that, in case you wondered, is what agents really do.)
  • Jackie and Jeff Filgo (THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE) are writing SAVE THE DATE, for CBS. The show’s a comedy, natch, about a woman “who drunkenly books a wedding venue and is now faced with the task of meeting the right man in the right time.” (Which is all well and good, but what’s gonna happen in the show after the teaser? Legs, Mr. Moonves, legs – don’t you want a show that has ’em?)

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 1/29/14

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Irvine Welsh (TRAINSPOTTING, yeah, baby!) is writing the pilot for an HBO comedy series about “the world of electronic music.” (And if you think for one minute that you could get a pilot deal based on a fuzzy generalization like that, well, you’d better think again. This show’s on the agenda cuz of its players – Welsh, Will Smith, UK DJ Calvin Harris and almost a dozen other “producers” HBO really, really, really wants to be in bed with.)
  • The Formerly Funny Hack Comedian Known as Bill Cosby is looking for a writer for a new NBC comedy series he’s going to star in and which is going to resemble his old NBC comedy series as much as possible. (Usually, this is where I tell you to talk to your agent and get a meeting but Bill Cosby? Word is that he’s the toughest/worst boss in TV since Jack Webb. Who was Jack Webb? Holy crap, do I have to tell you everything? Google him, gang, just google him.)
  • David O. Russell (Yeah, that David O. Russell) & Susannah Grant are developing an ABC series described as “upstairs/downstairs at a private country club,” and no, it isn’t a comedy, it’s said to be an out and out soap. (David O. Russell running a soap. I’d pay to see that. Well, maybe not, but I’ll tune in the first episode…if I remember to set my DVR, that is.)
  • Mike Sikowitz (RULES OF ENGAGEMENT) is now the showrunner of CBS’s upcoming comedy series THE McCARTHYS, about “a sports-crazed Irish Catholic clan in Boston and the gay son…whose greatest sin is…his desire to spend less time with his family.” (We’re saying “new series” even though they’re only just now shooting the pilot cuz…why call a guy a showrunner unless you have a show for him to run?)

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 12/23/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are

  • David Spade (?!) & Dean Lorey (THE CRAZY ONES) are developing a comedy series about a rock and roll music manager struggling to stay at the top for HBO. (There are any number of ways this kind of premise can go south, but the first one says it all: It’s going to star David Spade.)
  • Brian Stelter‘s book Top of the Morning,  a behind-the-scenes about TV morning news shows, is being developed into a movie for Lifetime. (Which means that we don’t need to say anything further about this project except: It’s being developed into a movie for Lifetime.)
  • Scott Gold (UNDER THE DOME) is developing a drama series about the NRA called COLD DEAD HANDS for the Sundance Channel. (Even our new puppy knows all the ways this premise could tank, so let’s just go with the primary one: It’s about the NRA.)
  • Nick Bilton’s book about the development of Twitter, cleverly called Hatching Twitter is being turned into a TV series by Lionsgate, whose press release makes no mention of that crazy little necessity called a buyer for said show. (You may be asking yourself how this idea could possibly go wrong. To which we reply: It’s about Twitter! And the only people in the galaxy who care about Twitter are those who spend all their time tweeting, not watching, you know, TV. Sheesh.)
  • David Koechner (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE) is writing a sketch comedy pilot for NBC. (All together now, kids: The reason this one will go wrong, wrong, wrong is…yeppers, you got it – NBC! Anybody out there miss this answer? We didn’t think so.)

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 12/11/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are

  • Bernie Richburg (a pal of Pam Grier) is writing the pilot for an Entertainment One series starring Pam Grier as the head of a squad of “shoot first, ask questions” later Homeland Security agents. (Ethical/political considerations aside, this thing has “hit” written all over it cuz Pam Grier, Pam Grier, PAM GRIER!!!)
  • Christina Wayne (a Development Exec – uh-oh) has a new producing deal at Endemol Studios and is looking to develop projects so don’t just sit there, get in touch with her. (Pretend you know her. Take it her to lunch. This is opportunity knocking, gang. For reals.)
  • Carol Flint (ER) is writing the pilot for MDX, an Endemol Studios TV project. (See? We toldja they were real.)
  • Zack Stentz & Ashley Miller (THOR) are developing a new TERMINATOR TV series for Fox. (And they’ll be syncing it with the franchise’s return to the big screen as well. Which could be terrific…or horrible, depending on the way the two work together. Or if Pam Grier is involved. Yeah, Pam Grier as a TV terminator. Would that not be amaaazing?)
  • Doug Ellin (ENTOURAGE) has a new overall deal at CBS studios. (Nothing to see here, folks. Move along, move along. Maybe you’ll run into Pam Grier around the corner, who knows?)

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 12/6/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are

  • Benjamin Brand (BOLLYWOOD HERO) is adapting William Bernhardt’s book, Nemesis: The Final Case Of Eliot Ness, into a miniseries for NBC. (Cuz…Fucking Eliot Fucking Ness, everybody knows him – if they were alive and watching TV back in what, the late ’50s?)
  • David Diamond & David Weissman (THE FAMILY MAN) have sold a drama series concept, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF EMILY REED, to ABC. (Cuz let’s face it, if you’re a TV network d-person with no life of your own, the idea of anybody with two of them sounds positively scintillating, no?)
  • Jonathan Abrams (your guess is as good as ours) has sold a drama called WISDOM to ABC. (Cuz it’s basically a soap about Silicon Valley and the title is what passes for clever irony to people who feel threatened by tech. Trust us on this one.)
  • Daniel Knauf (NBC’s DRACULA) is developing a series based on the 1941 and 2010 feature film(s) THE WOLFMAN. (Cuz…the Fucking Wolfman, dammit. Everybody does know him.)
  • Some dude named Louis C.K. just signed an overall deal with FX to develop and produce new series. (We dunno about you, but we can’t imagine any producer anywhere he could do any idea we’ve ever had or ever will have better than Louis. Time to call our agent…and pray.)