ConQnA #2 features Lynnie Purcell! Lynnie and I know each other from being Just About Write TV recap staff buddies. We’ve chatted about screenwriting a few times and Lynnie was just always super encouraging! Lynnie lives in LA, pursuing her writing, and has written a few books, one of which is available for FREE online right now! Visit her website, check out her Just About Write reviews, and follow her on Twitter!
ConQnA kicks off with my first guest is Jo-Dean Roark who recently moved to LA to pursue TV writing!
Jo went to NYU at the same time I did and I got to help out a little on the set of her webseries Dorm Therapy. She’s developing another (awesome-sounding) webseries about a girl who can see the future when she applies make-up. Follow the show accounts on Facebook and Twitter, plus Jo’s own Twitter — It’ll premiere this spring! Jo has been a real big supporter of me, because that’s just the kind of person she is, and I’m really proud of her gumption to just get the work done. Here is her writing journey so far!
I’ve realized over the last year that I’ve gained quite a few screenwriting friends.
Whether just becoming interested or been writing scripts for a few years, I have quite a few friends who at least know what Final Draft is and intend to use it soon. Because of this, because I’d love to have a solid reason for more content on my blog, and because it’s always good to hear about people’s writing journeys, I’m starting a ConQnA series! (I’m a little on how Con worked its way in there…)
Basically, I will interview my friends (and whoever else wants to jump in — email me below) and post their responses here.
I think it will be good to explore what inspired others to become TV writers — and screenwriters and playwrights, because I don’t discriminate against medium (except reality. I middle-key discriminate against reality TV folk). Also, in this #OscarsSoWhite era, it is important to me to highlight my friends of color who want to write for TV and Film (and Theater). Our voices need to be heard as much as possible. The early stages of writing a project is often a great place to begin your diversity and inclusion — by the time it gets to the screen/stage, it feels more authentic.
Next week, I will be uploading these interviews. I’m excited! I’ve already gotten a couple and it makes me so happy that these friends of mine want to support this project of mine. I’m also proud of myself that I finally took the initiative to ask them to do it — something that’s not always easy for me as an introvert and a procrastinator. I’ve made great strides in starting projects in 2016 — which I hope continues (and becomes a lucrative adventure).
If you’d like to be apart of this series, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include ConQnA in your subject so I know what it’s in regards to.
First ConQnA Post next Tuesday! Then weekly after that for as long as I have interviews to post.
Banner stock photo from RekitaNicole.com. Shout out Black-owned stock photo sites!
The 2015-16 TV season is fast approaching, and with that comes endless articles on various trends and the state of television today. This week’s ConStar Clicks features a few of those articles and a couple of older ones. Click away!
Over on NPR: Television 2015: Five Shows They Will Never Stop Making including: The Adventures Of Mr. Superabilities And Detective Ladyskeptic and Healing Dr. Chilly.
Another NPR piece: Television 2015: Are We Done Hating Television? which discusses how movie stars are moving to TV, which used to be a shocking thing, as TV was what movie stars did when they couldn’t get movie roles. Now things are different.
Disdain for television is so old and so powerful that HBO used to try to repurpose it into something useful, like fuel made from old French-fry grease. That’s what “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” was.
Another great line:
Disdain for television is so old and so powerful that HBO used to try to repurpose it into something useful, like fuel made from old French-fry grease. That’s what “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” was.
TV NOW: Are You Cheating On Your TV Shows? [Seat 42F] considers the sheer amount of television that is on the air today and the way social media and other factors force us to choose which shows to watch live and which to save for that DVR/Netflix binge
Total scripted television shows rose from 340 shows in 2013 to 371 shows in 2014 and now there will be over 400 shows at the end of 2015 — that is an increase of over 60 additional television shows in the past 2 years.
It became essential to triage which TV shows had to be watched immediately or LIVE or suffer the repercussions.
An important question is asked: Is TV Writing the Best Job Ever? [Huffington Post]
(and answered by TV writer Jane Espenson, who’s worked for some of the best SFF shows on TV, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once Upon a Time, and Battlestar Galactica.)
This piece on the BBC America Anglophenia blog wonderfully explores how Tatiana Maslany perfects the various accents and dialects she performs so flawlessly on Orphan Black:
In playing these diverse characters, the Canadian-born actress has the Herculean task of defining each individual through speech and behavior without tripping over into Saturday Night Live-level caricature. And that’s not even accounting for the performances in which a clone pretends to be another clone. Nuances are layered on nuances.
If you’ve ever watched Orphan Black, you know those nuances are serious! Also why hasn’t Tatiana hosted SNL yet?!
Over on Buzzfeed, 51 TV Writers Reveal Their Favorite Thing They’ve Ever Written, which is really cool. A few of my favorite shows and writers are on the list, including Mike Shur (Parks and Rec‘s Halloween Surprise is his pick, which I of course watched about 15 times the night it aired), Jennie Snyder Urman of Jane the Virgin, Bryan Fuller (whose choice was Pushing Daisies‘ “Pie-lette”—just the title makes it one of my favorite episodes as well), and Rob Thomas (who also chose a pilot, the one for Veronica Mars).
Stephen Colbert‘s soon coming Late Show debut means there have been dozens upon dozens of articles written about him, his process, and his future on the show. Luckily for these magazines, I love Stephen Colbert. Here are a few of my fave articles written about him so far:
- In GQ: The Late, Great Stephen Colbert
- Written by Stephen himself in Glamour: Stephen Colbert Shares Why He Thinks Women Should Be in Charge of Everything
Netflix spares the average viewer from 130 hours of commercials a year, according to The AV Club. But how much money does that equal? Even based on what a cheap commercial might cost, I imagine it’s a pretty high number (I don’t do math if I don’t have to, so don’t ask me to make a guesstimate). But Netflix’s astounding success probably makes that money back and more. Amazing.
There is, however, a significant downside to always making television available all at once: the loss of the communal viewing experience. Say what you will about the Internet and social media, but one of the wonderful things about it is the access it has given all of us—to people who are interested in the same things we are. Live-tweeting a show or taking to the Internet afterward to read reviews, ask questions, or share thoughts means we no longer have to enjoy our favorite shows in the isolation of our own homes. That’s a beautiful thing.
As a person who makes most of her connections, both on- and offline, through mutual love of TV shows (and as someone who wants to write for television in order to spur those connections in other people), I definitely agree that bingeing TV shows takes away from the communal aspect of watching TV. Through social media, we’ve been able to make primetime viewing necessary with various Twitter community live tweets (see the Black Girl Nerds and Nerds of Color communities as prime examples), where you have to be watching a show live to engage with your online friends (or even go online, for fear of spoilers). TV’s power to connect people is lost when we can’t talk about our shows because half your friends haven’t watched them yet. With one episode, it’s easier to wait for them to catch up; if they’re a season behind, it’s harder. Hopefully a mixture of weekly and marathon series continues, so that we can have the best of both worlds.
Snoopy says it all:
I’ve been on hiatus (not really on purpose, just life and work getting in the way), but sometimes I still collect links for ConStar Clicks and then never post them because I either have too few or no time. Here are some links I’ve accumulated during this sorta hiatus. More Clicks coming soon (for real, there’s already a draft for next week’s!).
Search for a story that is meaningful to you, and excavate the depths of your imagination — what have you dreamed about writing, what do you wish you could watch? It doesn’t have to be a pilot, even. Is there an indie movie idea you’re dying to get out?
Basically, write what you want to write, no matter how wacky or unconventional, because agents will see the potential of it and it could get you work. Definitely something I needed to hear. Lesson of the day: Write it anyway.
Two articles on TV Staffing season (which has passed for this year, but is always useful for next spring!)
I’ve applied to three writing fellowships this year (!!). As notification season quickly approaches, this article was a very helpful read. Cross your fingers for me guys!
- 10 Things I Have Learned on My Way Into Two TV Writing Fellowships [Scripts and Scribes]
I don’t really do New Years Resolutions, but I’d love to finish something I write this year. My first challenge? Finishing a spec script. Tis the season for TV writing fellowship submission deadlines and I think I am going to take a crack at actually submitting something. So, right now, I am working on a spec script for the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
I’ve worked on a few specs before. I wrote a Castle spec a few years ago that got completed, but wasn’t good story wise and was way too short. I wrote a Parks and Rec spec that, upon reread, felt authentic to the show and actually had some jokes (!) but was missing a third act resolution and pieces of a plot point were done by the show itself after I’d stopped working on it. And earlier last year, I tried my hand at a Scandal spec. It seemed to be going well while writing it during a show hiatus, but once the show returned, a lot of little points I’d thought of were used on the show and plots/relationships/etc were more and more invalidated each new episode. I’ve also written a few short teaser-type scenes for a sit-com pilot and the first few pages of a drama pilot. Again, nothing I’ve completed.
Even though each script has gone unfinished or left something to be desired, I’ve felt stronger and stronger about my writing after each attempt. But it is time to finally finish something. The point of writing fellowships is to hone your craft, so hopefully, should I finish something and submit it, it is more about the potential within my script rather than how brilliant it actually is, but as with most writers, you want it to be brilliant from the get go.
I mostly write this so I am putting it out there. Connie should be working on her spec script. I’ve got an A story (recently developed, but I finally feel good about the direction it’s going), a nemesis for the main character (though I’m still working out obstacles), an emotional trajectory, a B-story involving Terry, Rosa, and Gina, and a vague idea for a C-story that maybe should tie into the A-story?
What I’ve noticed is that I am paralyzed by choice when it comes to writing fiction. There are so many paths a character could take, so many ways a character could be, which determines where the story goes. What if I choose wrong? If I pick between two ideas and one isn’t working, does that mean the other is better? Or should I break my brain trying to make idea number one work? I spend a lot of time stuck at the fork in the road and when I pick one, I keep wondering what’s down the other path. It’s definitely a struggle. And that’s all in the outlining. Once I’ve started, the characters start speaking and want to do different things than what I’ve planned, which affects where the story goes and thus all the little pieces I’ve thought of start to fall apart. Hence why I never finish anything. Even if I stop thinking about the road to the other side of the last fork in the road, a new one comes and I become overwhelmed with choice and the fear of missed moments of awesome. Also, there’s the giving up and the getting distracted, and the chronic procrastination, and ooh books! –ooh, new TV shows! –ooh, other ideas I should write! Typical writer problems.
So my goal for early 2015 is to finish this spec script. I bought an iPad around Christmas and it’s actually been helping me to be really productive. I’ve written about 7 pages of notes in Pages solely on my iPad while rewatching the show and on my commutes to work. And I bought Final Draft for iPad, which I think will be a really good way to write while on the go. So here’s to finishing this spec script. Hopefully the abundance of choice won’t be so paralyzing — I can just use those ideas in a second script. This post is to get my feelings out and for you readers to hold me accountable via comments, or Twitter, or wherever you see me lurking on the internet. Because if I’m on Twitter, I’m not writing. (But don’t take away my internet, research spurns ideas!)
Are any of you working on some works-in-progress that you’d like completed this year?
Shonda Rhimes has been winning awards left and right recently! There was the Director’s Guild Diversity Award last year (which got all sorts of controversial press because of Shonda’s statement that she was “pissed off” that they even needed an award for such a thing) and recently the which made headlines as Shonda broke the glass ceiling analogy by explaining that all the women who came before her cracked it first. Now she’s set to receive another award: The Paddy Chayesfsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement (isn’t that a mouthful) from the Writer’s Guild of America.
Named after one of the most influential writers in entertainment history, the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement is the WGAW’s highest award for television writing, given to writers who have advanced the literature of television throughout the years and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer. Past Television Laurel Award recipients include Steven Bochco, Susan Harris, Stephen J. Cannell, David Chase, Larry David, Diane English, Marshall Herskovitz & Ed Zwick, Joshua Brand & John Falsey, and, most recently, Garry Marshall.
See the names of those who have previously won this award? All white people. Only two women. Shonda will be the first black women, or woman of any color to receive this award — the guild’s “highest” award. That’s amazing. That’s inspiring. In a world where people of her gender and color are often marginalized, Shonda is not only making strides but giving opportunities to others who are pushed to the side. She’s showing us that you can have black leads and a diverse cast and dominate the ratings (competing even with football of all things). She’s providing complicated characters of varying colors who aren’t stereotypes but aren’t perfect either. And she’s writing (and/or producing) compelling television that has people tweeting and talking about episodes weeks after they air.
I love that she is getting all of this recognition and while Grey’s Anatomy is in its 11th season (!!), this should still be considered just the beginning of her career. I can see her name being attached to loads of TV shows, even if she’s not writing them, à la a lot of the other names on that list of Laurel Award recipients past.
Shonda’s not a perfect writer. There are think pieces all over the internet with regard to her characters and her writing style, but she hadn’t written TV before Grey’s Anatomy and all writing is a process. I think she is, more and more, realizing her brand and sees what’s working best for audiences and is adapting to it. Rhimes herself, in awards speeches she’s made, has mentioned how competitive she is, so receiving these awards means she’s only going to continue to grow and try to outdo herself. And I am excited to see what she’ll come up with next.
Check the press release here: Shonda Rhimes to Receive WGAW’s 2015 Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award.
I haven’t posted in a while, but posts like this need sharing as much as possible. We’ve made some strides in diversity on TV, but it’s not nearly enough for it being 2014. Let’s take the diversity we’re experiencing for the new fall season and support it and applaud it so that we see even more increases in the years to come. Definitely check out this article and share it!
A writers’ room of N.Y.’s own – Times Union
Check out this brief article on the lack of NYC writers’ rooms, despite more shows being shot here. I definitely wish there were more opportunities for tv writers in NYC, as that’s where I live. Hopefully we can get more here. Until I can write and produce my own NYC based (and set, because not enough NY set shows are actually shot in NY–those alleys, those fake trains…smh) hit TV series.
But it may spur more studios to at least consider locating their writers’ rooms here, and to hire a more diverse staff—writers who look and sound like New York, and like America.
Hopefully this list grows more and more as the 2014 pilot season arises.
Some of my favorites from this list:
Obviously Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. I am currently taking an TV writing class and decided to write a Scandal spec script. We’ll see how it goes.
Mindy Kaling – of the Mindy Project, obviously. I didn’t watch The Office, but I watch The Mindy Project and enjoy it’s rom-com style (when it sticks to it)
Aisha Muharrar writes for Parks and Recreation. She wrote the following episodes: “Kaboom” (2.06) “Park Safety” (2.19) “Camping” (3.08) “Born & Raised” (4.03) “Operation Ann” (4.14) “Bus Tour” (4.21)”Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” (5.01) “Ron and Diane” (5.09) and this seasons Recall Vote.
Yvette Lee Bowser wrote for A Different World and created Living Single. Two of my favorite black sitcoms. I need to check up on her other show Half and Half.
Check out the list for more, some of your favorite shows have writers of color you might not have known about. These writers are from Modern Family, The Killing, Hannibal, House, and Orange is the New Black!
This article, by Beejoli Shah dishes out some of the real workings of what is basically Affirmative Action in the TV writer’s world. She discusses what it is to be a “Diversity Staff Writer” (DSW) on a show and the pluses and minuses that come with obtaining that title. It is a bit of a long read, but definitely worth it. [Below became a long read as well.] There are many great insights in this article, I’ve quoted blocks of text below and appended further thoughts on the issues raised.
Most every writing room has one—an entry level, non-white staff writer, explicitly hired due to their race. (If you’re really lucky, being gay or a woman might just suffice, in lieu of not being white.) […] Perversely, Hollywood’s genuine attempt to remedy the overwhelming whiteness of the industry has instead led to a place where networks pat themselves on the back for hiring a token writer by institutionalizing those sotto voce complaints.
This is going to be a major issue (again) as of this week, since the hiring of Sasheer Zamata to be the first Black Female cast member to be on Saturday Night Live since Maya Rudolph left 6 years ago. It’s great that they’ve hired her, but it was only done so after major backlash after the current season was newly staffed and it is very clear that she is the token; the diversity hire. They didn’t look at her in the pool of everyone who auditioned, they’re looking at her in a pool of other black, female comediennes (an issue which Beejoli discusses further down). They’ve seen her in a pool of people like her and seen her as the best, but she shouldn’t be boxed in to a subset. More on this later.
It will then tack on some extra cash earmarked solely for a diversity hire, so that the studio budget can instead go towards everything that’s “integral” for the show to function.[…] Showrunners don’t have to worry about wasting their studio budget on a token hire that may not be so great in the room, a young colored writer gets a shot at the dream, networks proudly get to proclaim their commitment to diversity, everyone wins!
She kind of make it sound like an internship. The intern is the bottom of the office food-chain (in this case, the intern thankfully gets paid, but the same amount of respect). The show doesn’t really have to put any mental effort into hiring this person (they should, obviously, if they want a person who will creatively contribute, but it can be anyone and they lose no money for the choice).
Beejoli goes on to tell us that not a single new show brought in this season (2013-14), was created by a person of color. And I’m not even sure how many veteran shows are; Beejoli mentions Shonda Rhimes (because how can you not), but the fact that no one can ever name anyone else? That’s a problem. Essentially, Shonda is the showrunner diversity hire. No one has to hire a show runner of color because we already have one on TV.
Fox can guarantee a person of color a job to return to in future seasons, but also cleverly hold a person down at the level of diverse staff writer, even though they may be far too qualified to remain there.
It also seems to me that this could prevent new DSWs from getting work on a show because a show already has one that will remain on staff for that second season, while being paid with the diversity money rather than the regular staff writer’s allocation?
Beejoli says that some shows try to circumvent the issue by allowing “diversities” in traditionally white, male writers that aren’t usually considered diverse. A man reached deep into his family tree to discover he was a part Mexican, while another writer was given the position due to his heart murmur. I have a rare extra superior vena cava in my heart, can that count in my diversity points (besides being a nerdy, black, female obviously)?
there was a known stigma in the TV writing world that diversity hires are never quite as good, so much as they are just there.
This is my fear for Sasheer (I’ll probably post on this more later), but it’s also a problem in other Affirmative Action environments, like schools, etc. There is a lot of fear when being a black student at an expensive, possibly Ivy-league (/quality) school, that the other kids will look down on you because they see you as less intelligent. You got into the school because you are [black, Indian, Asian, etc], not because you “belong” there. And sometimes, when you feel overwhelmed in those environments, you have no one to talk to about it, because then it seems like you really don’t belong there (when in fact everyone feels the same way).
But in practice, the diversity hires are traditionally seen as slightly lower than plain old staff writers. The showrunner had to really want the staff writer there to be willing to part with $70,000 that could be spent on production or a different writer, whereas the diversity staff writer was a free gift from the network.
Like I said, kind of like an intern.
“Do you want to be writing partners? This white male writer not in a partnership thing isn’t working out.” “Listen, you’re both good writers, but he needs you more than you need him. He’s never read you before—he just wants an easier shot of getting staffed, because you’re diverse.”
I feel like this has come up in my life or the lives of my Friends of Color. Where someone attaches on to you because, “you’re black, they’ll let you in because they have to.” I don’t have a specific example, but it’s always strange to think of times when you have more possibility of doing something because you’re a person of color, since usually it’s (/you fear) the opposite. OR, as the article sort of talks around, people look down on you because you got in because you were diverse, but once you’re in, it’s a whole ‘nother set of issues.
“You know, you’re just like that girl from The Office. You could be the next Mindy Kaling!”
Whenever I mention my love of TV and desire to write for it, everyone says, “You could be the next Shonda Rhimes!” Which is cool, I admire Shonda for all that she’s done, but why can’t I be the next… Joss Whedon (another show runner I admire—Agents of SHIELD notwithstanding…) or Aaron Sorkin (without the drug problem). When it comes from other black people, I think it’s really just them wanting my name to be with hers (or something along those lines, my thought on this isn’t fully formed), but the fact that it comes from everyone who you mention it to… A friend of mine is a black actress who is producing a web series, so everyone says, “You could be the next Issa Rae!” As Beejoli mentions, it’s stuffing us in a “racial box.” She quotes Mindy Kaling herself, who said: “I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in?”
I was also starting to think of myself as only a diversity writer. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve called my agents to tell them that I heard there’s a diversity position open on a show.
This has been so relevant to my thought processes. When thinking about writing (because I need to sit down and actually do more of it…), I’ve gone from saying, “I should write for [insert show with predominantly white cast/writers]” to “I should watch more black produced shows so I can write specs for those.” And while this is certainly something I should do, because part of my desire to write is to create more content for black people to watch on television, I shouldn’t have to feel like I could only write for the next The Cosby Show or Fresh Prince. And it’s poisonous to think you should only write for diverse groups and then “move up” to, say, network television.
It’s poisonous to think that you should be the “diversity hire” and then “move up” to regular staff writer. It’s putting diverse writers and diverse television shows on a lower rung than the “rest” of television. “Shows with PoC are lesser than network shows without.” Back when UPN and the WB existed, they were looked down upon compared to the other networks, and part of that had to do with their commitment to airing shows with black casts (I say partly because even now the CW is “lesser” than the big 4 even though the CW has long abandoned the WBs diverse offerings). We must get out of this thinking. It’s one thing for the white dominated studios and networks to see the diversity hire as being of less worth, it’s another for it to spread to our own ways of thinking. Then we’ll never rise above the way the system works now. But as Beejoli says, the higher ups aren’t making the change just yet (outside of severe pressure from audiences *coughSNLcough*), so how can things really change?
I think Beejoli’s article is one way. It’s better to go in understanding how things may work, so that if given the opportunity, you can change it. People can band together to make things run differently. The “diversity hires” need to stick together and help everyone realize that there’s more to a person of color joining your writing staff than filling your token quota.
Supes late on this one, but if you are too, check it out here. Only about 7 minutes long. I’m glad Scandal has a definitive end, because it’s not the type of show that can last forever, and we don’t want it to go past it’s lifespan. It’s interesting to me that she knew where Grey’s Anatomy would end but then they “kept going” so she had to sort of write past that. I wonder if a lot of showrunners face the same challenge. We sometimes blame shows moving past their expiration dates on the writers/showrunners, but the network has a large say and they’re definitely more about the money than the art or the story. Interesting piece (finally).
“Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. “
Well it seems that I’ve accidentally abandoned this blog for a bit, mostly because I am sort of focusing on other aspects of figuring out my life (photography whee!), and working, and being the lazy bones that I am when NOT working. And I’m not really back. (Maybe I am though?)
Anyway, I just saw this slideshow article on MadameNoire about African-American TV Writers, in a brief moment of “there were others like me once, how do I become like them?” The article is here. The list is (unfortunately) short and just the fact that the list names writers who worked in the 60s and 70s (who of course paved the way) means that there need to be more names on the list for current writers (why aren’t there more black tv writers these days?!). Though I must say, Yvette Lee Bowser (who exec produced Living Single) is not on this list, so clearly there are other names missing. =/
But it’s still interesting to see the names of well-known and lesser-known black tv writers; whose ranks I would love to someday join–should I ever get my life together.
Bye for now!