by Kathryn Graham
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line! Don’t miss the first two parts of this interview with this rising star HERE and HERE.
You worked in politics before entertainment, right?
I worked briefly (in politics) then I went and interned in film and television. I worked at an agency and management company briefly, and then I landed on a TV show. I’ve been working in TV for several years now. That’s been my trajectory.
So you’ve been a script coordinator and a writer’s PA, right?
I’ve worked on several shows as support staff. Everyone’s experience is different, but for me it’s helped me tremendously for gauging personalities and being in the room. In the pitch process, it was helpful to be able to say I’ve worked on these shows and been in the room, even though I haven’t been staffed. Depending on the shows I might have more room experience than a staff writer. I’m familiar with different personalities, names, and talent.
It’s been super useful because I’ve come to a point where I can utilize my contacts for something. Because of this (winning Pitchfest) happening, I have been able to reach out to people and ask for help in the right ways. Because I guess UCP validated me.
What was the best part of being a writer’s PA or a script coordinator?
You learn the most by being a fly on the wall. There were a lot of times, when I was writer’s PA where I asked to read for staffing. I learned that asking to do stuff of your own initiative means you get to overhear conversations about why a writer is staying or not staying, join meetings for staffing, and see how they put together the room. It was super valuable. You get access to something you wouldn’t get to otherwise.
What was the most fun?
Open bars at wrap parties. That’s the best part of life, when there’s an open bar, let’s be honest.
There’s this idea that there’s a hundred million different ways to break in. Is that true?
I feel like the path that I’ve seen with the most success is being a writer’s assistant. Script coordinator sometimes. Like I said I’ve seen instances where the writer’s PA gets staffed. It’s rare.
There’s a few instances where people break in from features because they have a film at Sundance. Everyone is very different. Half the people are in programs. There are a few who do it the old fashioned way, get representation, and get staffed. The rest would be through working as support staff on shows. Then there’s a small percentage that’s ‘other’. That’s been my experience. Out of twenty people I know, that’s the breakdown I see.
What’s your advice for getting a first job as a writer’s PA or assistant?
Network effectively. You throw a penny in the air you’re bound to meet someone who works in TV in this town. I would say when you’re meeting with people, really know how to work that contact. I’ve had people who would just e-mail me once a year after having met them once and just ask for a job. Not say or do anything else throughout the year. That person I’m less likely to recommend as opposed to the contact who’s like ‘hey, let’s grab a coffee’ and seems genuine and interested in getting to know me.
You have to know how to play the game a little bit with your contacts. I’ve been on shows where I never met the showrunner, and I was hired. Really know how to savor that contact. Don’t make it that every time you reach out to someone that you need something.
I remember there was this one contact who was so smart who would e-mail me, and be like ‘hey, I got free tickets to this screening, do you want to go?’ So every time they were reaching out it wasn’t about work, and it wasn’t about something they needed. It almost sounds fake, but it isn’t. It’s about being genuine, for me. I’d rather help someone who’s genuine and socially intelligent. People who know not go to ‘Hey, do you have a job? Bye.’
Unfortunately it is who you know. Some of those jobs get posted on tracking boards. Most of those jobs are word of mouth. If you stayed on someone’s radar and were not annoying, those are the people who get jobs. That’s the best advice. Network effectively. I’m actually really surprised because I feel like not a lot of people do that.
It sounds so on the nose, but it’s true. It’s hard because writers are naturally introverted, and not everyone, but me, I’m neurotic. So it’s not natural for everyone to be extroverted.
Networking seems very simple but mysterious at the same time.
I can tell you one thing I did that was effective for me was I used to throw on TV assistant brunches or get-togethers. I would invite thirty people who work on shows and twenty people who are looking for jobs. That’s actually how I landed a lot of my first interviews on TV shows. I was like, how do I meet these people? Alcohol! Great! I didn’t have those contacts, so I had to think outside the box.
At the time I had a friend who worked at an agency. I knew a handful of people, and those people invited other people, and you wind up having a good group. If you’re right now looking for a job in TV, just get brunch with five or six people. Group outings. Whatever. It’s about making those contacts.
Writers’ groups are a good way to meet people too.
What would you say to people who feel like networking is superficial?
A lot of people who I’ve met, I’ve become friends with for years now, some are really good friends. I’ve never gotten a drink with someone I didn’t like. Even if I want a job from them, I wouldn’t do that. I’ve always considered myself a sincere person. Some of the people you meet might become some of your greatest allies in the industry.
I think the way to bypass thinking that it’s fake is that you’re meeting people at your level who are going to bat for you, will be your friends, and be supportive. Just to have a network of people who will be just as annoyed when you don’t get into that writing program. I wouldn’t look at it as a completely fake thing. One or two of those people have wound up being close friends of mine who I can talk to. I can say to them: ‘something annoying happened in the room and I need to vent’. They get it because they work in the same business.
I have a couple industry friends who are genuinely my friends. I have a friend who left the industry because our friendship goes beyond whether I need something from her. When you work in this town there’s a lot of people who you wind up connecting with. On a larger life scale, bird’s eye view, I would look at networking as the stage in your life where you’re finding your work friends, rather than college friends or childhood friends.
I’ve heard from an agent that you should never hand an agent something that’s not brilliant because you will never get a second chance.
That is true to an extent. This pilot was passed on. Most agents in my opinion sign you once they know you have some momentum. When the news hit Deadline, they reached out to me again even though they passed.
Agents don’t pass because the material isn’t good. I would say that because I’ve worked at a management company. 80% of the time it’s because you need momentum where you’re about to get staffed or you’re in a writing program. Then they’ll look at you.
Unfortunately that’s really cynical. I have a friend who has a deal now, but when I was working at a management company, I tried to get them to look at her. She’s so good. They didn’t sign her because she wasn’t known. Then she got Warner Bros. two years later and everyone wanted to sign her. I’m like ‘What was the difference?’
For me it was a two week difference. Someone said ‘we’re not looking for clients right now’ and two weeks later, I was announced on Deadline, and they reached back out to me. I have nothing against that. It’s the business. I just think it’s the process. It’s not personal. It just means you have to create the momentum. If you’re a comedy writer, you can make Youtube videos and get a lot of hits. With social media there’s a lot more you can do now — especially in comedy.
If you had to break into the industry now instead of when you did, what would be the first thing you would do?
Someone else gave me this advice. You can either work on a show and move up or go do something in the industry and jump on a show. Get a job. It doesn’t have to be in the industry. Get something that you can do so mindlessly that it doesn’t emotionally drain you so you can write and live your life.
Survive. Get a job. Always write. Even before you come to LA, if you were writing and you have your samples ready, get a job, and then network. Gotta make sure you pay that rent.
A lot of people are hard on themselves when they can’t get an industry job. I would say if you have a job you can do in your sleep outside the industry, that’s great because you’re not drained. I know a lot of people who work on shows who don’t write because their mind is so discombobulated.
Some people with corporate jobs, they work and then take a year off to pursue writing. There’s a path where you don’t do the TV support staff route. Get an agent. Place in a contest. Get momentum going.
Stay positive. It’s such an annoying thing to hear. It really is. Surround yourself with people who give you that energy and momentum. There may be days you think “What am I doing with my life? WTF?” There may be days like that, but move on. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, but don’t suffer with it. That’s something I generally try to live by. Try not to dwell on things so much.
People forget in this town too. People make comebacks all the time. You can be up one moment, down the next. Don’t let things get you down.
I worked for a boss where the head of the studio told them that they’d never work in this town again. A few years later this person got a show. People have a short memory in this town, so you should too. If you had a shitty day, live it and let it go. It’s harder to remember when you’re in the moment.
Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE