Kelly Jo Brick: On Building a Creative Career

It’s been over a year since Kelly Jo Brick graced this site. We would have said “well over a year,” but there’s nothing “well” or even okay about it.

Anyway, direct from her FinalDraft.Com column, some helpful advice about the “bricks of breaking in.” Rock on, KJB!

Andrea Ciannavei of Mayans M.C.

Bricks of Breaking In: TV Writer Andrea Ciannavei on Building a Creative Career
by Kelly Jo Brick

While there is no one path to break in as a film or TV writer, there are a lot of similar challenges — both internal and external — that aspiring writers have to confront. Below, Mayans M.C. writer Andrea Ciannavei shares how she faced the odds to grow her career as a television writer.

“I’ve always written; I’ve always wanted to be a performer of some kind. That impulse has been with me since I was a very small kid. I didn’t know what any of that meant, I just did it,” Ciannavei said.

Harnessing her writing interests became difficult without her mom’s support, though.

“I wanted to go to college for acting and my mother was absolutely against that,” she said.

It was only after a longtime friend reached out to Ciannavei’s mother to say, “You need to let her do something creative in college or she’s going to flunk out” that her mom got on board, and Ciannavei went on to study dramatic writing at Tisch and attended Juilliard, where she studied to be a playwright.

While transitioning from plays to TV, Ciannavei dealt with a wall of self-doubt that many writers face.

“My agents were like, ‘You gotta write a pilot so we can try to get you a job or at least a meeting.’ I had such a hard time with that; I procrastinated on that for years,” she said.

“I was like, ‘I’m not smart enough to write a pilot.’ I think it was just that I have a severe handicap when it comes to self-confidence. So I had every reason in my mind why I couldn’t write this thing.”

With encouragement from showrunner Liz Tuccillo, Ciannavei began to reflect on her own life, asking herself about things she had done over the years…..

Read it all at the Final Draft Blog

Kelly Jo Brick is a former TVWriter™ Contributing Editor and current writer for the Final Draft blog. 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: Takeaways from the Austin Film Festival & Screenwriting Conference

TVWriter.Com’s  Kelly Jo Brick was a panelist at the Austin Film Festival this year and returns to this very site bringing some of the insights she gathered while attending the event.

In the words of Larry Brody, “Welcome back, Kelly Jo! Boy, do we ever hope you’re going to stay.”

AFF Executive Director Barbara Morgan with screenwriters Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON) and Scott Rosenberg (VENOM). Photo by: Arnold Wells

by Kelly Jo Brick

Every year the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference puts together a jam-packed event, filled with films, panels and parties as writers gather to celebrate a shared love for story.

From television to film, playwriting to podcasting and scripted digital to young filmmakers programs, the festival offers an atmosphere rich in education, information and inspiration like these:


  • Writing is understanding how you process the world and learning to work within that. – ED SOLOMON, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
  • We can only judge our work with the skills we have. It takes people pushing you and telling you the hard truth for you to grow.
  • Put forward the thing you love the most with the spec you’re writing. – LAURA EASON, THE LOUDEST VOICE
  • Get hold of scripts that you like. Read, learn, be inspired.
  • Find a writers group. Help each other out. Rise up together.


  • Look to trauma and personal connection as a driving force when you build characters.
  • Identify your characters’ fears, what shuts them down emotionally. – JAMES V. HART, HOOK, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA
  • Fear can point to your nemesis. Put that power into that character.
  • Go as deep as you can with backstory. It doesn’t need to be on the page, but you need to know it to better inform your writing.
  • If you don’t believe your characters are real, no one else will. – BEN CORY JONES, BOOMERANG, INSECURE
  • The name is super important. It’s your first introduction to a character. – ERIKA L. JOHNSON, THE VILLAGE, QUEEN SUGAR
  • When writing real life people, there’s an added pressure to get the story right, but at some point you do need to treat them as characters. You can’t be so reverent that you lose the storytelling. – CARLY WRAY, WESTWORLD, MAD MEN


  • Dialogue can be used to both reveal and conceal.
  • What you don’t say is just as important as what is said.
  • Some of the best things can come from a small exchange. – TESS MORRIS, MAN UP, CASUAL
  • Read your dialogue out loud to make sure it works.
  • All your characters in a scene want something slightly different, use dialogue to express the thoughts behind their thoughts.
  • Feeling stuck? Listen to the speech patterns of others. Observe their rhythms and expressions.
  • Give yourself the freedom to be dialogue heavy in your first draft and streamline it in later drafts. – TESS MORRIS


  • First drafts, they all suck. – MEG LeFAUVE, INSIDE OUT, CAPTAIN MARVEL
  • There’s no excuse to not start writing, it doesn’t have to be good from the beginning. Just sit down and write.
  • If you struggle to get started, find the thing you love the most, like dialogue or action, and begin there.
  • Look at problems in your script as disease versus symptoms. You’ll tend to see symptoms in acts two and three, but the real problem is often in act one.
  • You’ve got to finish. Then you can rewrite, but it can’t happen if you don’t first finish.
  • I’m still terrified every single time before I start a script. You fight your way through it. – SCOTT ROSENBERG, VENOM, CON AIR


  • People tune in for characters and relationships. There needs to be road built to drive that, challenges that put characters through an emotional journey.
  • How many episodes will be in each season? This sets a guide for shaping the overall season.
  • What is the question that’s central to your season?
  • Who is your big bad for the season?
  • Try not to box yourself in as you start to brainstorm and break episodes. Let the beats grow and evolve.


  • If you find yourself viewed as one type of writer, you can write yourself out of that impression by stepping out of that wheelhouse with a new spec script in a new genre.
  • If you write in partnership with someone, never get off a point without you both being happy. – RON BASS, RAIN MAN
  • Writers don’t really have power, you have to persuade.


  • The role of failure isn’t discussed enough. There are erasers on pencils for a reason. – NICOLE PERLMAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, CAPTAIN MARVEL
  • Don’t use judgment as a hammer to knock yourself down. – MEG LeFAUVE
  • Try to find ways to make writing fun. – ROCHÉE JEFFREY, BEVERLY HILLS 90210, SMILF
  • Don’t feel guilty for protecting your writing time. Whether it’s putting a snooze on your email, having to pass on an event or coffee with a friend, you’ve got to prioritize your writing.
  • If you’re having a hard time sitting down and getting things done, find an accountability buddy, someone with whom you communicate regularly to keep you on task and on schedule.
  • The genius is in the mistake, the failure. That’s where the great ideas are from. You’re digging and excavating. You are on the hero’s journey as you write.

    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: Tips on Breaking in From Emmy-Nominated Writers

TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Kelly Jo Brick has taken 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, you-name-it:

by Kelly Jo Brick

Just like there are so many directions you can take a story, there are also many different paths to take when breaking in as a writer. The one common theme, whatever road you go, is that developing a career as a television writer isn’t easy. Final Draft visited with several Emmy®-nominated writers to get their best tips and approaches to dealing with challenges that arise along the way.

When it comes to advice on breaking in, Better Call Saul writer Thomas Schnauz believes, “That’s one of the hardest questions because there’s just so many answers.”

His suggestion for aspiring scribes: “Work on film in some capacity. That’s what worked for me. I started off as a parking PA and worked my way up to PA.”

Just getting involved can make all the difference as Schnauz adds, “I came from a background where nobody in my family had anything to do with film or television production, so it’s just getting in at any level you can and getting to know people and if you want to be a writer of course you have to write. Keep writing even if what you’re writing is the worst thing in the world. You just have to keep producing pages until you feel satisfaction with what you’re doing.”

Michael Starrbury (When They See Us) encourages writers to empower themselves as creators and, “Make your own stuff. Take any little bit, even if it’s a one-page script, go out and shoot that. Then shoot something a little bit longer. Then shoot something that costs a little more money. Be writing your own stuff, but at the same time make your own stuff. These days people want to see something. I think that I could have made my career a lot faster if I would have.”

Escape at Dannemora’s Michael Tolkin found similar advice an influence when as a young reporter he heard Robert Towne (Chinatown) speak. Towne recommended, “Make movies with your friends….”

Read it all at

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

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