Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With LaToya Morgan, Part 2

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick

LaToya-Turn-Director-Chair-300x273

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 and hard work.

A commitment to hard work combined with a desire to always become better at her craft, helped drive the success of television writer LaToya Morgan (TURN, SHAMELESS, COMPLICATIONS). She shares with TVWriter.com her advice about breaking in, taking meetings and always striving to learn and improve as a writer.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN BREAKING IN?

The biggest hurdle was getting that first shot, like getting someone to say yes. And so once that yes came from the Warner Bros. Workshop, I think that was what opened a lot of doors. So I’m always incredibly grateful to the Warner Bros. Workshop and Chris Mack especially, for seeing the potential I had as a writer and giving me the opportunity to show it.

WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

When I was in film school at AFI, one of my teachers was a man named Leonard Schrader, he wrote Kiss of the Spider Woman. His brother Paul Schrader wrote Taxi Driver. A great writer. Hardcore, I loved him. He would always say to me, “Why are you making me read this shit?” Literally that is what he would say. I’d be like, oh my God. But what the note behind the note was, was to get into the story faster. Grab you reader immediately. And that’s what I took away from that.

And I think all the teachers I had at AFI were really great at getting you to get to what the core and the heart of the story is. That’s probably the thing that I hear most often in the back of my head when I’m writing. Yeah, like why are you making me read this shit so stop meandering and talking about the flowers and all this other stuff, get to the core of it. It goes to this old quote from Billy Wilder that I love, which is, “Grab the reader by the throat and never let them go.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE ABOUT GENERAL OR STAFFING MEETINGS?

As far as prep, I always try to know who I’m meeting with. Especially in this day and age, there’s no excuse not to Google someone before you meet with them. If you’re meeting with a network executive, try to find out what shows that person covers and then also what shows for that network that you would be good for. Know that ahead of time. Don’t wait for them to tell you, you tell them.

And my best piece of advice for interviewing is really simple, which is to be yourself. I know that sounds sort of cliché, but to me, the only time I’ve ever truly been nervous in a meeting is when I was trying to guess what I thought that person wanted me to say instead of me just saying what I think and who I am.

It’s so much easier and it just cuts down on the anxiety. You’re always going to have butterflies before you go in, but just know that the person sitting across the desk from you, they want to have a good meeting too, so engage with them, talk to them.

I just spoke to someone the other day who asked a similar question because they were going to be up for the Warner Bros. Fellowship and I think it sounds really simple or like you should know this, but don’t be afraid to go with the flow of the conversation. So if you’re talking and you find out they like a show you also like, don’t be afraid to go on that tangent for a little bit before getting back to the business of whatever you are there to talk about.

AS A WRITER, WHO INSPIRES YOU?

My favorite writer is John Steinbeck.   Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book, just because it’s a family story. It’s a journey. Tom Joad is one of my favorite characters. So I love that.

I am not a snob when it comes to storytelling, so whatever the genre or medium I love it. I love all kinds of sci-fi stuff like Battlestar, X-Files and then I love something gritty like Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, fantasy stuff. I’m a big comic book person so I read a lot of comics. Cross genres I have a lot of influences, so I would say drink it all in. All of it. Plays. All that good stuff.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS THAT YOU GET ASKED BY ASPIRING WRITERS?

The most common question I get is how do you break in. And I can say as a person who has thought that myself, like when I was at AFI, people would come in and talk on a panel and I would be like, just tell me the secret of how you broke in. Just tell it to me. I know you’re keeping it from me somehow. Just tell me where the secret door is so that I can get in.

My breaking in story is so much different from the other person’s breaking in story. It’s just right place, right time. Luck. All that. I never really truly understood that until I was sitting on the opposite side of the table. I think that the answer for that particular person’s story will be different from mine, but what you can do is always be prepared for the moment.

So before I broke in, I was always writing a lot of material. I wrote several TV specs, a couple of features, plays. I wrote short stories. I just loved telling stories so it didn’t feel like work to me. It was so much fun. So when the time came for me to have that meeting with my manager, he was like you have all this material you haven’t shown anyone and I was like, yeah. And he was like; I love you, because I just had this arsenal of stuff. So I would recommend that you just write whatever strikes you, whatever interests you, in whatever medium that is. So if it’s a short story do that, if it’s a play, do that. Just keep writing.

You have to be prepared and it also helps you become better as a writer, so that was my obsession. I always want to be better as a writer.  It’s like the 10,000 Hour Rule from Malcolm Gladwell. I felt like hopefully I’ve passed the 10,000 hours by now. Ever since I was a little kid, I was always writing. After AFI I continued to write more and more and more and just get better every time I wrote something.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS TRYING TO BREAK IN?

Watch a lot of TV if you want to be in television. I’ve heard people say they want to write TV, but they don’t really watch it. It doesn’t make sense to me. So I think that immersing yourself in the shows that you love and then sometimes watching a show that you don’t love and trying figure out why you don’t like it is a good way just to prepare yourself.

Writers are always about output, output, output. You still also have to have some input. What books have you read? What movies have you seen? It’s important to write and continue to write. Always be writing, but you also have to be reading and you also have to be watching television and inputing as much as you output.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. 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: The Write Path With LaToya Morgan, Part 1

LaToya-Turn-Director-Chair-300x273

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 and hard work.

Writer LaToya Morgan’s childhood love for reading, writing and old movies took her on a path that led from film school at AFI to participating in the Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop and working on the writing staffs of TV shows including TURN, SHAMELESS and COMPLICATIONS.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

When I was a little kid I would read a lot and write a lot. So my biggest influence was probably Stephen King. I have fond memories of getting to the scary parts of his books and going into my brother’s room and making him sit with me while I read it. So I always loved books and I always wanted to be a writer.

The first story that I ever wrote was literally like it was a dark and stormy night. I love suspenseful stories. Still to this day, a lot of the things that I work on, they end up having some sort of suspense element or spy element, in addition to family. That’s the other thing that I write the most about.

I went to undergrad at UC Irvine. And then I went to film school at AFI. The Film Conservatory was amazing. It’s probably the most influential thing that happened to me in my writing career because I really got to dig in and hone my writing. There were wonderful professors there who were really influential in my growth as a writer.

DID YOU HAVE ANY INTERNSHIPS WHILE IN COLLEGE?

I interned at Paramount, which was great. As a kid I watched a lot of old movies. I was a huge black and white movie fan. So like SUNSET BOULEVARD, I would drive the little cart through that gate and I’d be like, oh my God, this is where Billy Wildler shot SUNSET BOULEVARD and so it was a lot of fun to do. The other internship I got was at an agency as a floater, which was my nightmare, because any time one of the assistants had to go to the bathroom or they were out for the day, I was on their desk and that’s where I learned that I’m not good at rolling calls.

The biggest thing I learned doing those internships was about how the business works, especially working at the agency. I got a chance to read all the scripts that were going out from their clients. I got to learn what writers were working, what stuff was selling. It was really great to just digest a bunch of writing and you could see how different people were working out their stories.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?

My first real job in the industry was working as an assistant in the development department of a very small production company. I got to read all the scripts and sometimes sit in when the producers would meet with different writers, but that company in particular was all about adapting books, so it was interesting to see the writers’ writing samples that would come in who were up for pitching for those projects.

My favorite job was when I worked for Disney. I worked in the archives where they had all the props from different movies like MARY POPPINS and the costume that Michael Jackson wore in CAPTAIN EO. All that stuff was in the archives and I worked specifically in the photo library where there were millions of pieces of photography from behind the scenes of all their movies and all their television shows, so it was really great for a film nerd like me to be in the vault.

WHAT IS YOUR FIRST WRITING OPPORTUNITY?

When I was working for Disney I would go home at night and be writing my scripts and falling asleep at my computer and then getting back up again and going to work and doing it all over again. I ended up applying for different fellowships and contests as they came up and one of those was the Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop. I submitted a pilot script and a spec and I ended up getting into the Warner Bros. Workshop, so it was great.

I applied two times. The first time I applied to the workshop, I made it to the top 5%. And I was really mad. I was like, man, I wanted to get into the workshop and I’m this close. For that I wrote a DEXTER. The spec that ended up getting me in was a spec that I wrote for SONS OF ANARCHY.

The great thing about the workshop is that they run it sort of like a simulated writers room so you get to learn what it’s like to do a story area or write an outline and then write a script. You get feedback from the director of the program, Chris Mack, who is a mastermind and genius and he sort of acts as a showrunner and helps you with your ideas and to flesh out your script.

When you’re in the program you sort of get a taste of what it’s going to be like. We have all these great speakers come in, from network executives to other writers to people who have gone through the program and we talk about what it’s like to be in the room and what it is like to work with the network, all the stuff that you might need to know when you get out of the program. At the end of the program you go out on all these meetings. They send your material to different shows that are up for staffing and hopefully you get one of those jobs.

A script that I had written came to the attention of John Wells Productions.  I got a chance to have a meeting with their executives and it went really well. There was a job opening on SHAMELESS on Showtime and so I got a chance to interview for that with John and the entire writing staff of SHAMELESS, which was probably the most intimidating interview I’d ever been on. It was crazy and fun and I ended up getting the job, which was great. That was my first job, staff writer, SHAMELESS, John Wells. Crazy. Amazing.

HOW DID YOU GET REPRESENTATION?

I would write all the time, even while I had my job so one of the things I applied for was the Nicholl Fellowship. I made it to the top 5% and when you get to that level, they’ll send your stuff out to different agents and managers to see if anyone’s interested in your material. One of the managers read my stuff and we sat down and had a meeting. Matt Horwitz was the manager and Dave Brown, they worked at a small company at the time. They now work at Echo Lake Entertainment.

They read my material. They loved it. We hit it off and they really had a vision for where they thought they could take my career. I was all on board for that and I signed with them. So I had a manager before I did the Warner Bros. Workshop, but I ended up getting the agent after the Warner Bros. Workshop. They send your material to a bunch of agents once you’re almost done with the program.

I wasn’t even really thinking about an agent because I was so busy focusing on trying to get that first job. So once I got staffed on SHAMELESS, then all the agencies, they were reading my material at the time, but that sort elevated it.  I met with a bunch of different agencies. I ended up selecting CAA. Elizabeth Newman is my point person there. I was just so impressed by how smart she was and by how thoughtful she was. She is such a fighter and I love that about her, so I definitely was very excited to have her join the team.

Coming soon – more from LaToya including her advice about breaking in, taking meetings and fueling your creativity.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. 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.