BEYOND WORDS 2018 – Insights From Writers Guild Award-Nominated Writers

Photo by Michael Jones

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild Foundation, The Writers Guild of America, West and Variety brought together several of this year’s Writers Guild Award-nominated writers for a panel discussion to reflect and share insights about creating their films.

Moderator Graham Moore (THE IMITATION GAME) led writers Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (THE SHAPE OF WATER), Greta Gerwig (LADY BIRD), Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK), James Mangold and Michael Green (LOGAN), Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (THE DISASTER ARTIST), Jordan Peele (GET OUT), Steven Rogers (I, TONYA), Aaron Sorkin (MOLLY’S GAME) and Virgil Williams (MUDBOUND) as they talked about how they decide what story to tell, the relationship between the words on the page and what’s seen on the screen, the craft of writing from treatments to inspiration and dealing with notes.


Virgil Williams – The best advice I ever got while I was starting out was to write. Honest to God, someone sat me down and I went, “What am I gonna do? What do I gotta do? Tell me what I gotta do.” She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You want to be a writer? Write.”

Michael H. Weber – This will be so simple as to seem stupid, but write every day. Write especially when you’re not in the mood or when you don’t have any good ideas or when you have other things to do. Treat it like a job before it becomes a job.


Guillermo del Toro – As far as ideas, it’s the one that you feel that you’re choking to do. Like literally the one that you can’t stand that it hasn’t been made.

James Mangold – For me, it’s looking for something that you haven’t done. It’s kind of scaring yourself. Finding a set of challenges that don’t seem familiar.

Vanessa Taylor – Sometimes it’s just a what if that seems so full of possibility that I want to imagine where it goes. I’m always looking for that place where I might have the opportunity to be carried away.


Jordan Peele – I spend the vast majority of the time on treatments and outlines and studying. I didn’t know that this would end up in a movie. I thought this was gonna be a project for me and for fun. Part of the project was the impossible task, how do you make a horror movie about race that works. That was this thing that engaged me for about five years. I had the whole outline. I had every element of every scene sort of laid out and then when I sat down and wrote it, it took about two months.

Michael H. Weber – We don’t write a word until we feel pretty good about the outline. For practical reasons, just that it’s easier to diagnose problems. You can never diagnose all of them, but you can solve quite a few of them when you’re looking at a five or six page outline than when you’re on page fifty and go, oh wait a second.

James Mangold – We try, but I look at an outline and I’m nauseated. Me and my partners will all dive in and try to execute a few pages of something and go, what does it feel like? How does this scene surprise us in some way? It’s not like I hate outlines for anyone to do them, but I do feel that any process religiously followed, starts to affect the way we make movies. I do think the bumper car way of writing may be inefficient, but some of the inefficiency can be beautiful. You can end up writing something that never would have seemed at home in the through line of a document that’s two pages long.

Greta Gerwig – I don’t outline. I think whenever I outline or do treatments, it’s like I’m pretending to write a movie that I have no idea how to write. It feels fraudulent to me. I have to write into a hunch and write into something I don’t totally understand. Because if I could understand the whole of it, before I started writing, I wouldn’t be able to get to the end.


Jordan Peele – I developed this mantra when I was writing, designed to break me out of writer’s block. It was, follow the fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right. There was a point in the process where I got to something that was very vulnerable and the fun evolved into tears. The thing that stops so much of my art if I let it, is when I lose track of why I want to tell this story.

Emily V. Gordon – When I’m starting a project, I’ll write down this is the reason I want to do this project. When I get so angry or bored, I go back and look at why I wanted to do this. I keep reminding myself this was the headline of why I wanted to do this and at one point in my life I wanted to do this.


Kumail Nanjiani – Taking pressure off having it be good the first time really freed me up to just write. A lot of stuff I wrote that I thought would be terrible was actually stuff that was good.

Aaron Sorkin – It’s a very good idea to get to the end of the screenplay. Don’t keep going back to the beginning. Get to fade out. That’s really important. By the time you’ve gotten there, you’ll have learned a lot about what you’re writing.


Aaron Sorkin – Trying to figure out what people want and trying to give it to them is a bad recipe for storytelling. When I write, I try to write what I like, what I think my friends would like, what I think my father would like and then I keep my fingers crossed that enough other people will like that I get to keep doing it.

Guillermo del Toro – The entire choices you get as a storyteller is to appease or awake an audience. Is this going to be a lullaby for the way it is or am I going to slap you in some way and make you react differently? The temptation always is the lullaby, the appease, and the one you need to seek is the awake.

Virgil Williams – What I was trying to do with MUDBOUND is make you look at yourself in the mirror naked, because MUDBOUND is America and everybody can connect to one or two people in that story. What I wanted to do is grab you by the face and make you look.

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

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: – 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 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:


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.


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.


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: 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

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.

TV WRITING: Your First Years In The Writers Room

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

From finding representation to landing the first staff writing gig and navigating the writers’ room, everyone’s path to breaking in is different. The Writers Guild Foundation brought together Polina Diaz (FULLER HOUSE), Kay Oyegun (THIS IS US, QUEEN SUGAR), Robert Padnick (THE OFFICE, MAN SEEKING WOMAN) and Britta Lundin (RIVERDALE) to talk about the highlights and challenges of their first years writing for television.


Write the script you’re really scared to write, because it’s probably the one most personal to you and will resonate the most with other people. It doesn’t matter if nobody’s going to buy it or it’s too expensive. Just write what you want to for your sample.


It’s totally fine if you move to Los Angeles without knowing anybody, you’re just going to meet those people naturally. Work backwards from what you have and build on that. Do you have friends who are in the entertainment business? Do you have friends who have friends in the industry? Just be really thoughtful.

Meet people who you maybe want to be friends with. It’s so not schmoozing people at a mixer and handing them your business card. It’s like going to a birthday party and talking to someone and learning about them and caring about them. Later maybe they’ll be like, oh, I like your project, maybe I want to read your script. That’s the kind of networking that’s going to be most helpful.

Go out to drinks once or twice a week just to chat with people and see what’s up with their lives and exchange scripts. You meet a lot of people through writing groups and reading their work. Doing that long enough, you build up a group of friends and people who care about you as a person and want to see you succeed.

If you’re a comedy writer, there are definitely comedy communities that you can be part of like Upright Citizens Brigade or Groundlings. While you’re doing that, do things to get noticed, Twitter feeds, web series. People notice funny people all the time. There are ways to stand out if you’re just really creative or working really hard at it.


The question of how good I am versus how people are receiving me is going to haunt us for all of our careers. One thing you should have in your life is really honest critique partners who will tell you the truth. Hopefully you have a writing group or a friend who will be like, this needs more work or this isn’t your script, you have to write something else. If you have people who seem really smart and know what they’re talking about and they say it’s good, then maybe it’s good and you’re just sending it to the wrong person. It’s important to do your research and know what kind of stuff that manager or agent represents or what their other clients are doing. If they only do genre stuff and you’re sending out a romantic comedy, it might not be the right match.

It’s really important to know your brand. Before you think of yourself as a brand or as a business, which you really are, you have to know what you love and what excites you. Hone in on your craft and make sure what you’re writing is solid. Send the best thing you have. You have to fight for it. If they’re not into you, they’re not into you. Move on to the next person.


You change so many things and you move things around. You apologize to the author constantly, because so much of the book is changed. We try to be truthful to the core essence of the book and also be respectful to the fans who read and loved the book. You do your best and try to be truthful to it, but you don’t have to be married to it.


Read the room. Am I talking too much? Does anyone look annoyed by how much I’m talking? Do they look annoyed by how little I’m talking? Definitely when you’re a staff writer, it depends on the showrunner and the staff for how much you should speak.

Some people don’t really care about the politics, they say if you have a good idea, just say it. For some shows there definitely is a hierarchy and you have to read that out. When you’re a staff writer, you’re never going to go in the room and be like, I know what the A story is or this is what your show is. For comedy, you’re there to pitch jokes when they’re stuck on something or pitch ideas, but don’t command the room.

Be overly prepared. That is very helpful. You are a facilitator of someone else’s vision. Know the world, at least to an extent of what they’re planning on doing. If the show deals with a specific subject, research it. Nobody else, especially the higher ups, wants to do that work. Do it on your own without anyone asking. When it comes up in the conversation, you’re able to bring the world there.

Different shows have different processes. Some like story pitches that have a beginning, middle and end of a pitch. That can be overwhelming for certain people. It’s a skill you have to continue to develop. Sometimes your pitch doesn’t work, but at least there’s something in the space and world you did that allows for another idea to be generated off of that.

Find a senior writer in the room, be friends with that person and just check in off the record to ask for feedback. Different rooms have different vibes and landmines to watch out for. Have someone that seems sympathetic. Just pull them aside during coffee or lunch and be like, hey, how am I doing. Usually there’s a sympathetic soul that totally gets it, but they’re not going to give advice out of the blue if you don’t ask.

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

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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.

BEYOND WORDS – Celebrating Writers Guild Award-Nominated Writers

Photo Credit: Michael Jones/WGAW

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild of America, West, the Writers Guild Foundation and Variety gathered together several of this year’s award-nominated writers to speak about their films. From craft to the business side of entertainment, nominees shared inspiring stories of the persistence and drive it took to get their movies made, the worst notes they ever received and that sometimes you need to break the rules.’s Contributing Editor, Kelly Jo Brick, talked with several of the writers to discover what’s the best advice they received early on in their writing careers.


Some of the best advice I got was that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Which I think was really key, because there were definitely moments where I was like nothing is happening and I’m stalled. You have to remember that is part of the business and you have to keep going. There will be highs and lows.


Build a community. Find a group of peers. Your way in is almost never going to be someone who is already established. It’s going to be someone who breaks in and takes you with them. That’s how I’ve seen it happen a lot. I think there are more opportunities for those kind of groups now than there were before. The internet is a big part of that. Also there’s a greater awareness about how movies get made.


I got no advice when I started out, but I’ll give some advice that I told myself, which was write the movie you want to see and that’s what I did.


When you’re starting out you want to write what you know. That is what was told to me and I think it was the best advice as far as trying to get images and characters on the page. I think the characters I knew were the best training for that. You have to read screenplays too. Most up and coming screenwriters watch a lot of movies, but they don’t read a lot of scripts. We all know what the great scripts are from the last thirty years and we should all be reading those when starting out.




The process of making HIDDEN FIGURES and working with a very diverse cast and a very diverse crew has shown me that I never want to make a movie with four white guys with wigs. I want to stay on that path and represent the world as we see it.


One thing I learned is to not get too disheartened when things in your career and the life of a project seem like a death knell. Disasters, I had a lot of those on this project specifically and I look back now and say, “Oh, I’m glad the movie didn’t get made at that moment because I wasn’t ready to make it. I’m glad it didn’t go down this path.” I hope to have that sort of Zen about things going forward.


I think I learned along the way both internally, creatively with the film itself and also the experience of making the film and showing people the film, that often wherever there is this terrible adversity and people are getting pushed into painful situations, there seems to be somewhere in the equation an equal amount of love and effort to help each other through it.


I didn’t learn anything from DEADPOOL, but I do think that unfortunately Hollywood is trying to, like should they be making more R-rated movies or action movies or breaking the 4th wall and all these things. DEADPOOL existed because it wasn’t learning any lessons from any previous film. It was just on its own weird course. I feel like it’s really incumbent upon us on artists to not do what the studios do and analyze failures and successes and different elements inside them and start to either move away from those elements or use more of those elements because you’re chasing success or trying to avoid failure and just to chart your own path.


You need the passion to push that ball up the hill. Oftentimes it falls back on you and you have to have the fortitude and the passion and the love to keep pushing, because you will hear no a lot and it can crush you. But if you have that passion to not take no for an answer and to keep pushing, then somehow, someway you will get it done.


Probably the biggest lesson I learned is that writing on spec can be really good therapy. It also encouraged me that I actually realized four of the last five specs I have written have female protagonists. It really is my sincere hope that at some time in the future the only way for me to get those kind of movies made is to write them on spec because I hope if they’re assignments, they go to women.



I think just knowing what you want most out of a particular project and what you’re willing to give up for it, will equip you far better to field all the things that come at you while you try to get the movie made and when you’re tempted by someone saying, “Hey, we’ll make it for you and we love it,” and then after you sign the contract they say, “By the way, we want to change the ending,” which is what means most to you. If you know in advance that you’re not going to do that, that you’d rather not make the movie than change the ending, you’re in a much stronger position. You have negative power as a screenwriter. You have no positive power, but you can always say no, I don’t want to do it under these circumstances and knowing that can be really helpful.


I think the transition from student to professional has to be self-generated, especially in 2017. You just gotta write that amazing film. It’s better if you can go out and direct that amazing script as well, but it’s about self-generating. Take out a $100 or $1,000 and go make a film.


I went to film school. When a lot of students got out, they just wanted to be a director. They wanted to be successful instantly. I don’t think that’s a reality. I was happy to learn and I was happy to write on that board in the writers’ room as a production assistant. I am proud I wrote MEAN GIRLS 2, because MEAN GIRLS 2 meant I could pay my rent. It was a wonderful experience. It’s okay to take some jobs to learn. They don’t have to all be prestigious. I just urge you to take the jobs. If you’re being hired to be a writer, that is one of the luckiest things in the world.


You gotta write. You have a computer, you have a yellow pad, go write and use your iPhone. Get some friends who are actors and go make a short film. You don’t need millions of dollars to do it. You just have to write something. Don’t wait for anybody. No one is going to offer it to you. I never understand when people say I’m waiting for the phone to ring. You’re going to be waiting a long time if you don’t generate it.

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.


Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild Foundation brought together participants from several prestigious writing programs including the Nicholl Fellowship, NBC’s Writers on the Verge, the Disney/ABC Writing Program, Humanitas New Voices and the CBS Writers Mentoring Program. Panelists including Brandon Easton (Disney/ABC Writing Program), Brian Anthony (Writers on the Verge), Greta Heinemann (CBS Writers Mentoring Program & Humanitas New Voices), Andrew Lanham (Nicholl Fellowship) and Michael Werwie (Nicholl Fellowship) shared highlights and tips from their experiences both applying to and participating in these fellowships.

1 – Fellowships are just the start.

It’s important to remember that if you place in one of the fellowships, it’s just the beginning of a really long road, not the end. It feels momentous when it happens because you’ve been working so hard for a number of years, but it’s just a step. Use it as that, because it’s really hard to find those when you’re trying to break in. It’s the beginning of a much longer road and the harder road in certain ways as far as this happened, but it’s really not a big thing in the context of the industry at large. People are patting you on the back and they’re giving you all these compliments, although really it doesn’t translate directly into a career. Even if you get a job or two out of it, that is not a career. It’s not time to take your foot off the gas, it’s time to step down on it.

2 – They are not a magic bullet.

Celebrate the moment, but realize it’s not a single day thing. What you put into it, is what you get out of it. You can get one moment where you get a big accolade or you get a lot of recognition from something, but ultimately it’s the talent of the writing that’s going to determine whether or not the next step happens. Some people do get representation or staffed on a show. Some get one and not the other, some get neither, but getting in one of these programs is a huge step forward. They open the doors and it’s your responsibility do the most you can with the opportunity.

3 – Have a wealth of experiences and knowledge that can inform your writing. 

The fellowships are looking for someone who has a deep well to draw from, some other life that you’ve led before, and they’re looking for the ability to play nice with others.

4 – Make your script stand out to the reader.

The people who are reading your script have read so many scripts they get numb after they read like 5 or 6 of them and are looking for something that makes them feel. Make your script more emotional, something that’s going to elicit more of a feeling from a reader. If you write comedies, try to write a dramedy and if you write horror movies, try to write something a little more psychological or dark.

5 – Build a peer network.

It’s important when you’re going through this process to stick together with other people who are going through it with you, because those people are at the same level as you and are going through the same things. You need an outlet, someone who understands. If your close friends are struggling writers, there’s only so much they’d be willing to tolerate when you’re having what seems to them as champagne problems.

6 – Take advantage of all opportunities that come with these programs while you’re in them.

The TV game is so much about building relationships and getting to know people, so while you have access to executives and other creatives, make sure to reach out, grab coffee or lunch and get to know them.

7 – Don’t look at diversity programs as a trap.

Some people have concerns about the possibility of being categorized as a diverse writer. Look at these programs as an opportunity. It’s a foot in the door, then it’s up to you from there to you to present on the page and as a person.

8 – The notes process can be key to improving not only your script, but also yourself as a writer.

Giving good notes is just as important as receiving good notes, because it helps develop your own objectivity. The more objective you can be with your own work, the more honest you can be with yourself about whether or not something is working. When you start working professionally, being a diagnostician is half the job. If you’re going out on feature rewrites, you’re diagnosing what isn’t working, if you’re in the TV room it’s how can you make this better. Developing that muscle is really important too.

9 – Can other contests help your writing career?

If you have a feature, you should be submitting to the Austin Film Festival’s competition every year. Austin’s one of the best festivals for screenwriters. They’re all about the writer. You’ll get representation if you place there and you can send your script in by genre, so you can win for sci-fi or comedy or other categories. As for smaller contests, any kind of publicity is great, so if it gets you read, who knows where that could lead to, but keep your expectations realistic. There are no-name contests that have launched careers, but the benefits of those are mostly just getting read and practice.

10 – If you haven’t won a fellowship, there are other ways to leverage your writing.

Cold queries are an option. It’s not very efficient, but things can happen because of it. There are many resources online to figure out email structures, management companies and such. Let agents come to you, but query managers. Producers can be pretty approachable too. It’s all a long game of research to figure out who are the right people to target for your type of writing. Also, there are no small victories, hold on to the accolades you get along the way and make sure to keep them as part of your resume. It gives you validation and puts you ahead of the rest.

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

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.