Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Rashad Raisani – Part One

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.

An alum of NBC’s Writers on the Verge, Rashad Raisani originally moved to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming a feature writer, but found television to be a much better fit. He got his first writing job on the USA Network show BURN NOTICE where he rose from staff writer to co-executive producer. He also wrote for WHITE COLLAR and was executive producer on the NBC drama ALLEGIANCE. Currently he is developing projects as part of an overall deal with Universal Television.

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

I think I have always known I wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. We moved around a lot because my dad was in the military. Between the ages of 3 and 10 we were living abroad, so the only connection I had to America, a place where I really didn’t have any memories of actually being, were the TV shows that were the same no matter which base we were living on.

When I’d move to a new place and feel really lonely or displaced because all my friends had changed over, I’d go back to movies and TV shows because they were the one source of comfort that stayed the same no matter where we lived.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

The first thing I did, because I had no other resources, was become an assistant to a literary manager. This guy had exceptional taste and had all these great writers. The first thing he said when I started working for him was, “I want you to read everything that all of my writers have written.”

He had this whole bookshelf full of scripts, so I just read all of them. I saved all the TV people for last because I had no interest in them or television, but the very last script in the entire bunch completely blew my mind and I can even remember where I was when I read it and screaming, “Holy shit,” on a plane when I read this moment. It was by this young story editor on a show called THE SHIELD and the guy’s name was Kurt Sutter. That’s when I started to say, “Wow, I’ve really been sucking it up in movies.” At that time I’d been out here for a about year and not only had I not gotten traction professionally, but artistically and creatively I was struggling with the form of features, specifically the second act of a movie. It was just eternally vexing to me.

When I read that SHIELD script, there was just something so intuitive about how they had broken the story. They had like four or five plots. When one of them started to peter out a little bit, they’d cut to another exciting one. I just thought this is a great way to tell stories. From that moment on I decided okay, I’m going to try TV.

WHERE DID THAT FIRST ASSISTANT JOB LEAD TO?

I kind of fell for all the trappings of the wrong things, meaning an expense account, an office and an assistant of my own. I started working as a literary manager/development executive for two years. On the positive side, I was working in television actively. We were trying to set up projects. We represented some real talent, but on the negative side for my own artistic development, I wasn’t writing. I didn’t write a word for about two years.

WHAT WAS A BIG TURNING POINT IN YOUR WRITING CAREER?

It was a confluence of a few things and kismet played a strange role. For example, when I was temping and unemployed, but was sending scripts out everywhere, I talked to my wife and I said, “Listen, I really think it would be worthwhile for me to be an assistant on a television show.” And she said, “Well, I get it, but you really need to now think about writing. You’ve done the assistant thing for years. It’s been four years and really I want you to rise on your own merits at this point with your own writing.”

We made a deal that there was one script I had read by a guy named Rand Ravich on a show called LIFE. I said if anything opens up, I don’t care if it’s sweeping the floors, I want to work on that show. I think the world of Rand Ravich’s writing and also that script. Wouldn’t you know it that completely out of the blue I get a phone call from Glen Mazzara, who was in THE SHIELD DVD that we watched. He had gotten my resume through a friend of a friend and said he needed an assistant. So I started working for Glen.

That was a big break, just to be working for a bunch of incredible writers. I ended up working for 3 co-executive producers, there was Glen Mazzara, Jonathan Shapiro and Marjorie David, all of whom were exceptional talents and had very different approaches to writing, so I was able to not only make relationships with those incredibly talented and generous people, but also sponge up all their different approaches to the craft.

Within two months of that, I got my first agent. That was another big break. That was because I had sent scripts out, even some of them nine months before, and they just sort of worked their way up at agencies. Within just a few weeks of starting to work on LIFE, I started to meet agencies. Then within a week of that, I got my first showrunner meetings.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB?

BURN NOTICE was my first staff job. I got the job 3 weeks before the writers’ strike. My first Writers Guild meeting was the president of the Guild announcing that we have decided to strike. It was a big bummer, but at the same time at least I felt like being on a young show that had some real promise and I was also a diversity hire to the show so I was free, so I felt like at some point entertainment would have to resume. The strike would have to end and I would have a job waiting for me.

I used the strike to read as many books about spy games and stuff like that that BURN NOTICE was about so that when the writers’ room resumed, I could hopefully have some things to contribute.

WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE BREAKING IN?

One of the greatest pieces of advice was by Glen Mazzara after I came in from my first agency meeting. He said that every meeting you’ll step into, chances are they’ll ask you some version of tell me about yourself, but Glen said nobody wants the facts. They don’t want to know what year you graduated from college, what you majored in.

They want your story and they want to know that you’re the underdog in your own story and your story ideally answers all the factual questions that they need to know and it has some deep crisis/soul kind of moment to it and then it culminates with a triumph and ends up with you on their couch. You give somebody a story like that and you entertain them, you make them like you. They’re going to remember you, which will set you apart from the thousands of meetings they have that month to staff that show.

Coming soon – more from Rashad including what he looks for when hiring writers, advice on getting representation and tips on taking meetings.


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.

Kate G: Television Writing Contests 2013

Cinco de Bastos - Rider

by Kate G

Get some eyes on your spec, original pilot, or other original scripts by submitting to yearly television writing contests. Contests at least guarantee that someone will take the time to read through your script, and if you’re good (and lucky), they can offer cash, development deals, paid internships, high level workshops, and bragging rights. For the most part, television writing contests seem to be held in the first half of the year with the majority holding deadlines during or at the end of May. Once you hit June/July you’re pretty much going to be working for next year’s contests. In the spirit of helping every aspiring television writer out there, we’re listing a bunch of contests here in relative chronological order!

New York Television Festival
http://www.nytvf.com/index.html

This one’s going first because it has many different deadlines throughout the year depending on which initiatives it is currently sponsoring. Take a good look, East Coasters, because this is all you’re gonna get close to home. Most of these contests (or ‘initiatives’) are for independent producers creating original content, meaning you’re probably going to have to get out there and film something – even if it’s just a couple minutes to go with your treatment. They partner with companies like A&E, History, and Fox to provide chances for development deals. Festival is held every fall in Manhattan. Check back for new initiatives.

Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship
http://www.nickwriting.com/home/

Entry Period: January 2nd – February 28th

Comedy spec scripts only. Sorry drama writers. Ready for this? Because this prize is a knockout. Nick hires (that means pays) around four writers to learn from the best, participate in production and development, meet all of the important players at Nickelodeon, and groom to (hopefully) work there when they’re done. Prepare to move to Burbank, California if you win, but they’ll pay round trip airfare and a month’s accommodations. A veritable holy grail for comedy writers. Oh, and you missed it for 2013. But there’s always next year.

Scriptapalooza
http://www.scriptapaloozatv.com/

Entry Period: April 15th & October 15th

Enter with everything from pilots to comedy/drama specs to reality shows (and there are a lot of reality show producers associated with this one). Cash prizes for the winners and feedback if you want to pay an additional $75. But more importantly, if you win, they show your work off to all of their contacts, producers, managers, and agents. Exposure exposure exposure. Their network is available for a possible leg up into the industry.

CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program
http://diversity.cbscorporation.com/page.php?id=23

Entry Period: March 1 – May 1, 2013

Break out your spec scripts and some of your original work because you’ll need one of each. For original work they accept pilots, short fiction, screenplays, or short plays. However, for a funky twist to spice up your life, the rules state that your spec and your original work will need to ‘match in tone’. The workshop takes place in the Los Angeles area (noticing a trend, yet?) where you will be shaking hands with and learning from all kinds of television bigwigs. You win access to executives, support, and the chance to dive right in and observe your mentor’s writing room.

NBC – Writers on the Verge
http://www.nbcunicareers.com/earlycareerprograms/writersontheverge.shtml

Entry Period: May 1, 2013 – May 31, 2013

Comedy and Drama specs accepted. A 12 week intensive course held on Tuesday and Thursday nights designed to help you create an awesome spec and pilot to show to those who might hire you. This is described as a program for writers who just need a little spit shine to be ready for professional work. Once again, get ready to rush out to California as the workshop is held in Universal City. No one’s helping you get there either. But we all know if you win you’ll hitchhike your way out there and live under a bridge if you have to (remember to charge a hefty toll).

Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop
http://writersworkshop.warnerbros.com/

Entry Period: May 1 – June 1

Comedy and Drama specs accepted. A lot like the NBC Writers on the Verge but now with 100% more Warner Bros. A Tuesday nightly workshop in Los Angeles, California with the end goal of possibly being staffed on a television show. No help with housing or pay, but when your big break knocks, are you going to tell it you just can’t afford it right now? A great many working professional television writers have been through this workshop – and some have written books about it.

Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship
http://www.abctalentdevelopment.com/index.html

Entry period: Usually May – June 1st as well. (For some reason they don’t like to keep their deadlines posted until it begins.)

Comedy and Drama specs accepted. Make sure you have three solid specs, because if you become a finalist you may be asked for more work. If (or when) you win, you are offered the opportunity to become an employee of Disney with an annual salary of 50,000 USD. As with Nickelodeon, you will be exposed to and work with key personnel to advance your career. They will also have the option to buy the scripts you submitted at the price that would befit your experience level. Something to be aware of: this one is going to require recommendations from people who work in the industry so start sucking up to bothering asking your friends in the industry for glowing letters extolling the virtues of your writing prowess.

Spec Scriptacular & People’s Pilot
https://tvwriter.com/?page_id=450
https://tvwriter.com/?page_id=260

Entry period: January 1st – June 1st.

These are TVWriter’s own flagship contests, one for comedy or drama spec scripts and the other for original pilots (guess which is which). With thousands of dollars in winnings as well as the invaluable mentorship of Larry Brody, we happen to think the rewards are top notch. TVWriter is dedicated to helping you write your very best, so this year LB and company are offering free feedback for every entry! How’s that for a deal? On a personal note, this contest has some of the quickest and most personable responses from LB himself. Makes you feel like someone actually wants to read your script – not to find any reason to throw it in the circular filing cabinet.

Slamdance
http://showcase.slamdance.com/Writing-Competition

Entry Period: Feb 25th – July 2nd (tiers of submission deadlines)

Original Feature, Horror, and Teleplay/Webisode winners each win 3,000 bucks in addition to other prizes and the chance to have their script read by production companies, studios, and agents. Winner for original feature length screenplay this year receives $10,000 and $50,000 to produce the film. If you’ve got an idea for a movie while you’re perfecting your webseries and your specs, now’s the time to get cracking!

Fox Intensive Initiative
http://www.fox.com/audiencestrategy/foxwritersintensive/

So, Fox. I get that you only want professionals, people who’ve worked in your industry already. Not so great for the rest of us trying to catch a break, but I get that bit. But how about updating your website with the new deadlines? Or letting us know if there’s even going to be a new contest? Nothing up here except for last year’s info. If you see something pop up, feel free to let us know (or keep it to your greedy self). Go forth, write, edit, and buy those antiquated brads, champ. Because you can’t win if you don’t play.

EDITED by LB TO ADD: Here’s another contest, one we just thought of. First reader/commentor to tell us why the pic at the top of this article is relevant (and, yep, it is) gets a prize. (C’mon, you can do it. Writers are the Kings & Queens of General Knowledge. Or at least we’re supposed to be.)