The Bricks of Breaking in: Writer-Producer Christine Boylan on Building a Screenwriting Career

Former TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Kelly Jo Brick’s latest interview, chock full of info for Hollywood aspirants (no matter where you may be right now!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Building and growing a television or film writing career can come with great obstacles, as well as great opportunities. Writer Christine Boylan shares her experiences and advice on making the journey from aspiring, to working writer.

Boylan began her entertainment career as an intern for the ABC soap opera All My Children, making the cross-country jump from New York to Los Angeles after a win in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay and Television competition. Building on a writers’ assistant gig at Gilmore Girls, she got her first staff writer job on Leverage. Christine went on to write for Off the MapCastleOnce Upon a Time and was a co-EP on ConstantineCloak & Daggerand The Punisher. She’s also the founding voice behind Bespoke Plays, a theater company in L.A. dedicated to offering play readings for local writers who create diverse stories and worldviews.

Through these experiences, Boylan has accumulated several tips for surviving the day-to-day while working to break-in. “Building up a body of work, even when you can’t get a job, is super important,” Boylan says. She also concedes it can be hard to do in the face of obstacles. “I was terrified. I could barely make ends-meet. I was borrowing money like crazy,” Boylan recalls. “Everybody has a different way of getting by—I was just barely getting by. I had no health insurance; so, having asthma, I was just trying not to get sick. Everybody’s got stuff. You’ve got to juggle your stuff if this is what you want to do.”

She also suggests finding a skill that you can do outside of the industry. “But really, find your own way! If having a day job helps you, that works as long as you can do the thing and write, do it. For some people it’s like, ‘I have a day job, but I know that I’m alone for 20 minutes every day.’ Like at Gilmore Girls, I knew I had time to myself at night when everybody left—and I happen to be a nighttime writer….

Read it all at finaldraft.com

The Bricks of Breaking in: Sal Calleros on Mentorship

Former TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Kelly Jo Brick is writing for FinalDraft.Com now, but every once in awhile we get lucky and spot something she’s done there that has extra value for our visitors.

Such is the case with this interview of Sal Calleros, a former TVWriter™ Spec Scriptacular Competition Finalist and now co-executive producer of a delightful little show called The Good Doctor:

by Kelly Jo Brick

Sal Calleros

Mentorship can be vital to a writer looking to break into the industry, but finding a mentor and building a relationship with that person can be challenging.

Sal Calleros, co-EP of The Good Doctor, credits mentorship for a big part of the growth and development of his career. From participating in the Disney-ABC Writing Program to writing for shows including Private Practice, Rizzoli & Isles,Killer Women, Sneaky Pete and Snowfall, Sal’s experiences inform how working with various mentors — and now mentoring others — plays a significant role in his success.

Final Draft: As you were starting out, how important was mentorship to the development of your writing career?

Sal Calleros: It was very important, but I didn’t realize how important it was at the time.

I got started through the Disney fellowship. While you’re in the fellowship, you go through a series of mentors; half the year you’re with a mentor from the network and they help you develop a script. The other half, they put you with a mentor from the production side, at that time it was Touchstone Television. They set you up with a producer on that side who also helps you develop a spec. That mentor was fantastic. A lot of the time what a mentor can do is just give you encouragement.

Even though I was in a fellowship — and this never stops — it always feels like oh, I’m here by accident; like, any minute they’re going to find out I’m a fraud and I’m going to get kicked out or I’m going to get fired … What [the mentor] did, when I turned in my first draft, he said something like, “Oh, yeah. You should be doing this. You can do this.” He shepherded me through the process. He would give me great advice as I was writing the script. That’s when I realized a mentor is super important. How big it can be.

FD: In that type of relationship, what do you feel like you give back to the mentor?

SC: Everybody loves discovering that writer, because there are a lot of people trying to break in. When you find that writer that it’s like, oh my God, this is somebody who actually can do this, it’s very encouraging because the one thing you want to do is pluck them and plug them into the process. That’s just one more person in the system that will help keep it going. Talent, that is what is going to create the next big show and that’s what’s going to keep the Writers Guild and the stuff that we do vibrant and new.

I love reading something and then being like, oh my God, this writer has it. This is somebody I can see working. It’s rare to find somebody who is really good at it. When you read a script and you’re like, this person’s got talent; they have a voice. They can tell a great story and then in the back of your head you’re like, if I ever have a show, this is somebody I would hire. It’s a treat to find somebody like that….

Read it all at finaldraft.com

Kelly Jo Brick: 7 Tips to Stay Motivated When Writing Isn’t Your Day Job (Yet!)

TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Kelly Jo Brick is taking a break from our e-pages to write for FinalDraft.Com, but that doesn’t mean y’all have to miss her because linking, you know? So here’s the latest from our favorite award winning screenwriter, documentarian, blogger:

by Kelly Jo Brick

It’s your dream to be on the writing staff of a television show or to sell your feature film script. Until that happens, you’re working a day job, grabbing spare moments to write. So, how do you stay motivated until your breakthrough?

Set attainable goals

 One of the best ways to stay motivated is to have a simple goal in front of you that you’re trying to reach.

This could be creating an application for a contest or fellowship. Use that entrance deadline as a ticking clock to keep you moving on your script. As you set goals, challenge yourself. Instead of thinking, “I’m going to work on this new project,” break down the steps by creating a timeline for it, starting with how long you want to spend on your outline.

It’s surprising how having a goal in front of you makes it easier to keep on task. When you hit a goal, reward yourself; take time to enjoy your accomplishment — however big or small — then get back to work on reaching the next one.

Join a writers’ group

 Being part of a writers’ group is a great way for creatives to support each other and stay motivated. Whether you’re in Los Angeles or a small town in Wisconsin, there are people with a love for writing around you. If you can team up with other screenwriters, great. If not, your screenwriting can still benefit from input from playwrights, poets and novelists. Regular meetings will push your productivity; you’ll need to present new material each time, and feedback from fellow writers can spark new energy in a project that you might be feeling stuck on.

Get an accountability partner

 Writing can be lonely and keeping ourselves on task can become difficult. Social media, household chores or chatting with people at the local coffee shop can all be distractions from working on your script with your butt in the chair. This is where an accountability partner can help.

An accountability partner is someone with whom you check in regularly, usually with a phone call to touch base on what you’re working on and what you want to accomplish….

Read it all at finaldraft.com

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with DESIGNATED SURVIVOR’S Jeff Melvoin, 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.

From high school in Highland Park, IL, to studying at Harvard, Jeff Melvoin found theater to be a strong influence on his creative ambitions. After working for trade publications, Jeff went on to be a correspondent for Time in New York then Boston. He transferred to Time’s Los Angeles office before eventually making the move to television where he landed a spot on the staff of REMINGTON STEELE. He’s been the executive producer for multiple series including ALIAS, ARMY WIVES and DESIGNATED SURVIVOR.

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

I was drawn to writing or to doing something creative as early as elementary school. I would go to the movies and come home and have to tell everybody everything that happened from beginning to end. When I entered high school and life got a little more serious, I thought I was going to be an attorney like my father. I started out in the Debate Club and I had some success there, but I found out I wasn’t enjoying it. Then in high school I fell under the influence of a very powerful and terrific drama teacher. Gary Sinise and Jeff Perry were two of my acting companions while I was there, so that’s just an indication of the level of excellent instruction we had.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

Writing for REMINGTON STEELE. What happened was, when I graduated from college, I did not have the confidence or any basis to start a career in the arts. I ended up back in the Chicago area, living at home for a brief period of time. I put together a resume for publishing and for journalism, because I figured I wanted to make a living somehow involved in writing. I had an uncle in the furniture business and he knew the guy who published their furniture paper, so I got a job working for some trade publications, Fairchild Publications, which published Women’s Wear Daily and a bunch of things. That led to an offer from Time magazine.

At 25 I became a correspondent for Time. It turns out they were trying to augment their ranks with some younger writers. I said, well this isn’t really what I want to do, but I’m only 25, I can do this for five years and quit when I’m 30 and still have my creative life ahead of me. The experience was great. I worked for them in New York. I went to Boston, then I requested a transfer to Los Angeles. They transferred me to Los Angeles, I gave them a good year and a half in Los Angeles and I was approaching my thirtieth birthday, I had a string of good stories for Time and so I left on a high. Then I called a friend of mine and I said, “Now what do I do?” He asked what I wanted to do and I said that I wanted to write scripts.

The way it worked back then was that you wrote spec material for existing shows. REMINGTON STEELE had just come on and I thought it was very clever. I wrote a spec REMINGTON STEELE. They actually bought a scene from it and put it into an existing episode and said if the show was renewed, we’ll bring you back. The show was renewed so they had me work on a script and while I was working on a script, they made me an offer to join as a staff writer.

WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER?

The business is a lot different now than it was when I broke in. I was every bit as nervous as everybody was breaking in. Breaking into TV has never been easy and writing well has never been easy, but there was less competition. I was lucky enough working on REMINGTON STEELE. It was a show where you could learn and make your mistakes with a kind boss. Where things became rougher and more challenging is when suddenly you’re becoming more of an actual producer and being responsible for other people’s work. That transition was tough and I think is tough for a lot of people.

The biggest challenge was making the jump to my next job, which was co-executive producer on HILL STREET BLUES. I had spent three years on REMINGTON STEELE, but HILL STREET was a big challenge because it was in its seventh year and its final year. We were trying to keep a show alive that had been terrific, but was reaching the end of the road. Making that jump in responsibility and handling the various different creative forces involved, that took a lot. It was trial by fire and you’re always learning.

WHAT CAREER AND WRITING ADVICE REALLY STUCK WITH YOU?

Most everything I learned that’s really put me in good stead in this business, I learned in high school from my drama teacher. She always said, “Play to the one smart person in the audience.” If there’s a choice between just doing something generic and having the specific and really knowing that somebody’s going to appreciate the fact that you actually took the time to find out how people speak in this particular environment or you got the detail right, that was important. In terms of attitude, she would always say that a show, whatever show we were doing, was a gift that we give the audience. I always thought that was a lovely way to think about preparing things and also how you treated other people. She was a stickler for everybody was an equal part of the production, whether it’s the star of the show or the second assistant prop person. Everybody has an equal stake in it. I think that’s important too.

There are so many things that Michael Gleason taught me about good writing and what to avoid. That meant some bad habits were shaken out early, like he wouldn’t allow us on REMINGTON STEELE to have mobsters or psychopaths as villains. Mobsters were too easy and psychopaths, well they can do anything because they’re crazy, so you didn’t have to do human motivation there.

I was very plot oriented, I’d written my thesis on detective fiction and so I tended to be very concerned about all the pieces fitting, but your job is to entertain and pace can cover a lot of problems. Raymond Chandler once wrote that when things get dull, have two men break into the room with guns. I didn’t fully appreciate how wise that bit of advice is, but I remember Michael Gleason once saying to me, “What happened to that little scene in there?” I forget what it was exactly. I said, “I couldn’t make it work.” And he said, “But it was funny. Make it work.” It was the destination, these little side excursions that were as important as the final goal. You just pick up stuff like that.

A friend of mine, John Wirth, who worked on NASH BRIDGES, apparently got this expression from Cheech Marin, which I’ve used often since, “There’s two ways to learn in life, the hard way and the harder way.” There is no easy way, but there are harder ways to learn and try to avoid those and learn as quickly as you can with minimal pain, but it’s going to be painful.

Coming Soon: Jeff shares advice on taking meetings and choosing what to write as your sample, plus what he looks for when hiring writers.


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 Writers: How To Navigate Staffing Season

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

By Kelly Jo Brick

Television staffing has become a year round opportunity for writers, but how does a new writer maneuver his or her way through the process of getting hired on a show?

The Writers Guild Foundation brought together a group of TV writers including:

Elias Benavidez  (BEYOND)

Niceole Levy  (SHADES OF BLUE, THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA)

Joe Lawson  (THIS IS US, JANE THE VIRGIN)

Shernold Edwards (HAND OF GOD, SLEEPY HOLLOW)

Moises Zamora (AMERICAN CRIME)

And moderator Brandon Easton (MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER) to share their own struggles with breaking in, writing the scripts that got them hired, what to expect when meeting with executives and showrunners and how the staffing landscape has been changing.

GETTING STAFFED IF YOU DON’T HAVE REPRESENTATION.

  • Apply for the television fellowships. Those programs can get you meetings and help put you up for a show before you ever have representation.
  • Talk to everyone you possibly can in the industry, but don’t be annoying. If an executive or other writer offers to stay in touch, believe it.
  • Representation sometimes does find you. Take workshops like UCLA classes. Referrals are often what lead to getting someone to rep you. Agents generally come in after you have a job.
  • Always keep writing. That’s what’s going to get you in the room.

SHOULD YOU WRITE SPECS OF CURRENT SHOWS?

  • Writing a spec will help you build a muscle that you will need. Good writing is good writing and that will help you no matter what.
  • Some execs won’t submit a writer who doesn’t have a spec in their portfolio. Have at least one that you love, to show you can write in the voice of someone else, because that’s the job.
  • Original voice is very important. Have an original pilot and a spec. It has you prepared for whichever an executive or showrunner will want.
  • Reading and writing specs are a good way to train you mind to look beyond the pilot.

HOW MUCH DOES IT MATTER TO WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW?

  • Write what you are passionate about. If it’s interesting to you, it’s interesting to them.
  • Think about how you want to market yourself.
  • Have something you want to say, channel your experiences and feelings into your characters and story.
  • Agents and managers have a passion barometer. They can tell if you care about what you’re working on. When you put your whole being into a script, people can tell.

STAFFING IS ALL YEAR LONG. HOW HAS THAT CHANGED THE HIRING ENVIRONMENT FOR NEWER WRITERS?

  • There aren’t a lot of network, 20 plus episode a season jobs anymore.
  • Shows are top heavy, but there are a few lower level positions.
  • Executives change jobs all the time. They also share with other people when they meet a writer they like, so if that one job doesn’t hit, still keep that relationship going. You never know where it can lead.
  • Part of getting a lower level staff job is building a fan club of people who want to help you succeed. There’s nothing that will endear you more to someone than genuine enthusiasm.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN MEETINGS WITH EXECUTIVES AND SHOWRUNNERS.

  • Know your personal story and be ready to share it. Also be able to tell them what shows you’re watching.
  • Do your research on who you’re meeting with, but don’t get too personal.
  • Be able to talk about what you like from their pilots, what you’re excited to write about and don’t be afraid to be wrong. Just be passionate about what you love about the show.
  • Try to find a personal connection to a character in the showrunner’s script. That can build conversation.
  • Know what they read of yours so you’re prepared to answer any questions they have about it.
  • Sometimes people will ask what you don’t like about a show. Prep a positive way to talk about it.
  • Some executives bait you into crapping on other shows. Don’t do it.

TIPS ON SURVIVING UNTIL YOU GET THAT FIRST JOB.

  • If you’re worried about money, you can’t write. It’s too scary. Do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself alive and comfortable. If you have to, sacrifice sleep or other things, but keep writing.
  • Build a routine around your day job to make sure you’re still leaving time for writing and networking.
  • Don’t get tunnel vision. If you don’t live life, you won’t have anything to write about. Do other things.
  • Be prepared for a lot of uncertainty. Am I going to get the agent? Am I going to get the manager? Am I going to get this job? Am I going to keep this job? What if the show gets cancelled? It never ends. You have to find a way to manage it.
  • You have to ask for stuff, because nobody will offer to introduce you to his or her agent. You have that one shot you can ask. They’ll either say yes or no. You can’t be afraid to ask.

WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS FOR A FIRST TIMER IN THE ROOM?

  • If you can say one thing of value before lunch and one in the afternoon, that’s good. Don’t force stuff out of your mouth because you want to be heard.
  • Read the room. See, hear, listen. See what the room needs. If everyone talks, you don’t need to. Build that skill of understanding for what the room does and doesn’t need.
  • Watch who is successful at pitching in the room and model their behavior.
  • It’s not your job to challenge the boss. Do whatever you can do to add to your showrunner’s idea.
  • Remember, just because you’re not talking, doesn’t mean you’re not working.

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.