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.
A one day gig as an audience page started writer Kellie Griffin’s path that took her from receptionist to writers’ assistant to writing for House of Payne and Reed Between the Lines.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?
An audience page, but that was for a day. I moved out here in March of 2000. My sister came out to visit me and we got tickets in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater to go to a show taping. Once we went to the taping, I asked the audience page if they were hiring, they said no but you can send your resume. I saw that somebody from the actual show came up and sat in the audience and I tapped them and I asked if they were hiring and they said no, but you can send your resume. That night I sent my resume to both places.
I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months and then the audience people called first. They were hiring but it was like $8 an hour. I turned it down. And then some friends were like, “No you gotta call them back and take the job because then you’ll at least be in the building. “
While I was there, I ran into the same person I tapped on the shoulder a couple months before with the show. And they said, “Well, we didn’t call you because we didn’t have anything, but if you want to send your resume again, you can.” So I sent it again. And the next day they called. I ended up the receptionist by that Thursday and that was the Parkers on UPN.
WHAT DID THAT POSITION LEAD TO?
I completed the whole second season at the Parkers and then a writers’ assistant didn’t return the next season and they asked me if I was interested in being a writers’ assistant. I didn’t know what a writers’ assistant did, but I was like, “Okay.”
I was a writers’ assistant for two seasons. Which was the best job I’ve ever had because you sit in the room with the writers and you get to hear how the stories are being broken down. When people are pitching jokes, you hear the execs say why they like it or why they don’t like it. So I’m just in there typing and just absorbing it all. It was an awesome experience.
WHEN DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY TO WRITE FOR A SHOW?
The Parkers got the announcement the show was going to be cancelled in the 5th season. The creator let all the assistants write an episode. That was it, I wrote my first episode. That put me in the Writers Guild. And then the show was cancelled and then I just went on from there being a writers’ assistant on different shows.
HOW DID YOU THEN GET THE POSITION WITH TYLER PERRY’S HOUSE OF PAYNE?
One day, clocking into work, I got a random phone call from Reuben Cannon. Reuben Cannon is a casting director turned producer. So he says that Tyler Perry was looking to do a TV show and was looking for writers and he had gotten my name from Ralph Farquhar. Ralph Farquhar was Executive Producer of The Parkers and Second Time Around, the two shows I worked on when I first started in the business.
They asked me to send something that Tyler could read and it had to be Tyler’s stuff. He had a whole bunch of stage plays that he had done that were on DVD. So I watched all his DVDs in like a day. One of them, Meet the Browns, at the end of the play, there’s a funeral. So I decided to write a script that starts with the reading of the will. I put jokes in there that I would never, ever put in my own stuff, because it was going to him and based on what I saw of his plays, what he likes. I got a phone call within a week, that Tyler wants to meet me. He loved it, said I captured his voice.
He asked me if I had any other friends that wrote and he said, “Well, can you get some people and meet me at my house?” So I gathered some people. We went out to his house in Malibu and sat there and talked about his idea and basically in his living room came up with the idea for House of Payne. He asked me if me and my friends could write him 10 episodes and just get them to him. I was like, “Sure.”
He started this new model, called the 10/90 model now. So he presented the 10 episodes. They had shot them and everything. He presented the ten episodes and basically said I guarantee your ratings will hit this number. If it doesn’t, I walk away, if it does, you’ll owe me 90 more. That’s kinda how it started.
It surpassed the number so they gave him 90 episodes. He asked me could I come to Atlanta. So I basically relocated to Atlanta for like 3 years back and forth. We hired some local writers in Atlanta and then the writers I was already working with here stayed here and then we did this speakerphone thing all day long.
So I was literally running a room simultaneously on two different coasts on the speakerphone, asking people in L.A. if they had any feedback and asking people in Atlanta what they wanted to say. And that’s how we went over every single script.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Just recognize that everybody’s journey is different. There is no formula to it. And you can’t compare yourself to this person that came in and got a job in a month and this other person that’s been here for 3 years and is still trying.
Don’t say I’m too old to do this. I think I was 32. I mean I had a Masters Degree. I had a whole other career up until this point. I had to humble myself and get coffee for people, and do things and type. It worked out. My mom was initially upset because she was like, “What are you doing? Why are you answering phones? You have a master’s degree.” But cut two years later when I sold a show and paid for the house and all that stuff and she was like, “Oh, okay.”
Be a sponge. That’s what I did. Sit in the writers’ room and just listen, absorb everything. If anybody can get a job as a writers’ assistant as your first job if you want to be a writer, it’s the best job to have.