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 TVWriter.com 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:
GETTING THAT FIRST JOB
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.
THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF WRITING FOR TELEVISION
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.
GETTING YOUR WORK OUT THERE – WRITING THE SCRIPT THAT GETS ATTENTION
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.