Kelly Jo Brick: – Advice From Emmy-Nominated Writers

Photo Credit: Michael Lynn Jones / WGAW

Sublime Primetime 2017
by Kelly Jo Brick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other highlights from the evening:

GETTING THAT FIRST JOB

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

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

THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF WRITING FOR TELEVISION

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

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

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

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

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


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

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With SUPERNATURAL’S Davy Perez, Part 2

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

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

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

HOW DID YOU GET THE WRITING JOB ON AMERICAN CRIME?

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

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

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FIRST TIME STAFF WRITERS?

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

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

HOW DID YOU GET REPRESENTATION?

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

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

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

ADVICE ON TAKING STAFFING AND GENERAL MEETINGS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With SUPERNATURAL’S Davy Perez, Part 1

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST OVERALL JOB IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Kelly Jo Brick: Mastering the TV Writing Meeting

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

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

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

Tips before your take your first meetings:

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

Red Flags:

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

Building Your Connections – The Informational Meeting:

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

Finding Representation:

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

General Meetings:

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

Staffing Meetings:

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

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


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

Murder She Wrote – Women Who Write Crime

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

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

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

WHY WOMEN LOVE THIS GENRE

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO SWITCH GEARS BETWEEN STYLES OF SHOWS

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

TIPS ON STRUCTURING A PROCEDURAL

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

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

NAVIGATING BEING THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM

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

GROWING YOUR WRITING CAREER

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

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

HOW TO PITCH A PROCEDURAL

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

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

KEEPING VILLAINS INTERESTING

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

GETTING THE FACTS AND PROCEDURES RIGHT WHEN WRITING CRIME

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

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

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


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

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With BETTER CALL SAUL’s Gordon Smith

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

Photo by Arnold Wells

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.

Emmy-nominated writer Gordon Smith credits much of his career success to luck. A friend got his resume to BREAKING BAD just as they were looking for a PA. After landing that job, Gordon’s career grew from working as a writers’ PA and assistant to Vince Gilligan, to landing a position as a staff writer on BETTER CALL SAUL. Now a producer on BETTER CALL SAUL, Gordon signed an overall deal with Sony Pictures TV earlier this year.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I don’t often think of myself as a writer. I went to school for writing at Michigan and then I was in the production program at USC, but I primarily focused on writing and editing. It’s that weird thing in my head that I don’t necessarily think of myself that way, but it plays to my skills in the arts. I don’t think I would ever be particularly well suited for things outside of the arts. Within that discipline, I think writing suits me.

WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?

Usually people want to know how I got my job, because everyone is wondering how you get your foot in the door. Unfortunately, my answer is usually luck, because it was luck. I started as a PA. I got my foot in the door. It’s luck, but I think it really can’t be overestimated how social the industry is, how many things happen because you know somebody and somebody else knows you and you can kinda say yeah, that person is okay, I know them and vice versa.

HOW DID YOU FIRST BREAK IN TO TV?

I was working at USC where I went to grad school. I wrote and edited a short film for a young woman, Nicole, who was a friend of mine and she went on and is very successful. Her first gig was as an intern, I think on MAD MEN, where Genny Hutchison was Matt Weiner’s assistant at the time. They became friends and I had been friends with her, so it happened that when I was looking for a job, she was J.J. Abrams assistant. So I was like, “Do you know of anything?” She told me, “No, but I know somebody on BREAKING BAD, maybe I can get your info there.”

My resume landed in their hands just at the right time when they happened to be looking for a PA. Towards that end, be somebody that other people are willing to say, I worked with this person, I like this person. I’m willing to recommend them. You want someone to be in your corner in that way. You can’t turn the switch, but it can happen if you’re ready and you’re in the right place for it.

WHAT TV SHOWS INSPIRED YOU WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?

In undergrad, I was mostly writing fiction and plays. Theater was especially something that I took seriously. It wasn’t until later that I started thinking about TV as a viable place to express myself. When I did, there were all these shows I loved or felt passionate about and followed. I was a huge X-FILES fan. I wrote a bunch of scalding papers about it at one point. I was and remain a TWIN PEAKS fan. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, I love that show.

My sister has a history of sitting me down and being like, “You have to watch blank.” BREAKING BAD was one of those shows. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was another one. She was like, “You have to watch this. You haven’t. You’re going to and you’ll like it.” She was right.

ANY ADVICE THAT YOU RECEIVED EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER THAT REALLY STOOD OUT FOR YOU?

I think not being a jerk is a big piece of advice. Be somebody that other people want to be around for ten hours a day, every day for eight months, which seems intuitive, but I think people also learn a lesson that the thing to be is the person who fights for their vision, which is important, but you have to balance that against there’s a bunch of people around you who are also fighting for their vision and you’re all trying to be on the same team.

The other piece of advice that I’ve heard Genny Hutchison give many times, and she’s dead on, is to do the job you have. If you are an assistant, there’s a thinking that the way to go is to dress for the job that you want, not the job you have. You hear that, but there is something kind of misguided about it. It works for some, but you may also alienate some people. You’re likely to end up with people who are like, I needed you to do this job. I needed you to get coffee. I needed you to write the descriptions in a line that are going to go on VOD for the episodes, which are evocative enough that they tell you what the episode is, but they’re bland enough that they don’t have any spoilers in them.

Those kind of things, they can be boring or they can be tough. They are actually quite tough, which is why they are sometimes done badly, but doing them well makes people go, “Oh, you could handle that. Maybe you could handle more.”

AS A WRITER, WHO INSPIRES YOU?

Lots of people. I’m inspired by a lot of the people I work with. I’ve been lucky. They’re a great group of people, because they’re very giving with their time. Tom, Genny, Peter, Vince and the people I’ve worked with a long time now have been very supportive and good mentors. I think they’re all really great writers. So I’m very happy and proud to be part of the team.

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

Yes opens a lot of doors. It’s hard to sort of look and say, well, I don’t know if this is worth my time, because your time’s precious. But for a good while, saying yes is going to be way better than saying no. It’s going to open more doors.

I took gigs for a long time that I’m like well, I don’t really love this or don’t know about this. Some web writing gigs, even some projects that weren’t perfectly in tune with my sensibilities with BREAKING BAD or things that I wanted to do, but doing them opened up opportunities. That would be my advice. Say yes to opportunities when they come, because eventually you’ll be able to say no. You’ll get to that point.

Also, keep writing. Keep polishing your stuff. It’s hard to find the time. It’s nearly impossible sometimes, but the more you can keep your head in that, the more you can stay engaged with what you’re passionate about.


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 SCANDAL’s Raamla Mohamed – Part Two

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.

Writer Raamla Mohamed’s career is a prime example of what can happen when a person puts in the hard work to make the most of every opportunity. After attending grad school at USC, Raamla landed a job as a writers’ PA on GREY’S ANATOMY. She went on to become a researcher on OFF THE MAP and SCANDAL. Selection to the Disney-ABC Writing Program got her a writing position on SCANDAL where she has risen from staff writer to producer. She was also a writer on the upcoming ShondaLand show STILL STAR-CROSSED.

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET REPRESENTATION?

I had written the SHAMELESS spec and I asked one of the writers on GREY’S ANATOMY to read it. I just wanted to get notes, because I knew I’d be submitting it to Disney as my second sample if they needed it. I had heard that if they asked you for it, they wanted it immediately. I learned from my mistake before of not being prepared, so I asked if he’d give me some notes. He did and he really liked the script. He started telling other writers that I wrote a good script, so Jenna wanted to read it. She read it and then she passed it on to her agent who then became my agent. I was already working in ShondaLand. I had good referrals. I had gotten into the Disney Program by the time all that happened, so I think I was in a better place to choose the agency I wanted to go with. I love UTA. I’ve been with them since the beginning.

I don’t have a manager. I don’t have anything against managers in general. I believe you connect with people and my agents are great. I think you should have representation who believes in your writing, whether it’s an agent or manager, someone who is really going to fight for you.

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

There’s always a writer on set and sometimes you have to cover for other writers. I had to cover and I was very nervous, because it was the director, and directors have different personalities. You have to stand up for yourself. You have to talk to the actors and explain stuff if they don’t understand it.

Someone said to me, “I promise you, you’ll know when it’s wrong.” Like you don’t have to worry about is this okay. You’ll see it. As a writer, as someone who’s been in the room, as someone who knows how it should go, you will know. Obviously you don’t always get it right. There have been times where I have been wrong and I thought something was going to be horrible and it turned out fine or the other way around, but 95% of the time you’re watching it and you’re like, something’s weird. Sometimes you don’t really know exactly how to fix it, sometimes it’s about talking to the director and they can figure out okay, yeah, I think I can see that and get you what you want. But that was very helpful because it kind of is an instinct thing.

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR TAKING MEETINGS?

When I take any meeting, I watch the news that morning so that I know what’s happening that day. I watch MSNBC or GOOD MORNING AMERICA just to get highlights of what’s going on. A lot of times in the ten minutes or five minutes in the small talk portion of the meeting, it really helps out. It helps out either way. If they didn’t see something, and it’s not necessarily getting into politics or whatever, but it could be a YouTube or general thing. Either they don’t know about it or they didn’t see it and you’re informing them or they want your opinion on something. It eases the banter. Also it makes you seem like a well-informed human being.

The other thing is that when you have a meeting with anyone, being normal goes a long way. People like someone who feels comfortable. You can relax. It’s a long day to be in the same room with people. You want people who are fun and interesting. That’s kind of what they’re looking for. They’ve read your sample and you’re sitting down in a meeting, so obviously they like your writing enough to bring you in. So you’re good. You’re fine. They’re basically meeting to see if you are someone they want to be around for 8 hours.

AS A WRITER, WHO INSPIRES YOU?

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? 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. People are making these 8 to 10 episode stories about lives and characters that you love.

THE PATH TO BREAKING IN.

I would say there’s not one path, which can be comforting, but also scary. I wouldn’t be afraid to go to grad school, but I wouldn’t be afraid not to go to grad school. I was someone who needed the discipline of grad school to write, so I went to grad school. You should know yourself. What do you need? If you’re someone who can work at a coffee shop and write at night and submit to festivals or you want to do your own web series, that’s a path too.

Are you someone who’s good at desk work, then go work on a desk to prove yourself. Everyone should pick the path that they think is going to get them to where they need to be in the best way possible. I have no interest in acting, but if I did, then I’d write things to act in and put them up on something. There’s a lot of ways to do it, but you have to find your thing.


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.