Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Kellie Griffin

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, Kellie Griffin photopersistence, 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.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Laurie Scheer Part 2

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

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Aspiring writers often wonder how industry pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Today we continue our visit with Laurie Scheer, a former VP of Programming for WE: Women’s Entertainment. She has worked as an assistant, d-girl, and producer for ABC, Viacom, Showtime, and AMC-Cablevision. Laurie has been an instructor at universities across the U.S. from UCLA to Yale and is currently part of the faculty at UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies Writing Department. As an advocate for writers, Laurie shares insights from her years of working with both professional and aspiring writers.

WHAT ARE THE BIG MISTAKES YOU SEE WRITERS MAKING?

The biggest mistake is the fear of success. I will see the talent in a script and this happened to me constantly at the network. This script is great. I can’t wait to get this thing made, however, we just need to change a slight subplot because we can’t shoot it in one place. It’s not going to change the story, we just need a couple of scenes changed.

It’s going to take the writer a couple of days, maybe an afternoon. And weeks will go by. “Hey did you get to that?” “No, I didn’t get to it.” And you realize that they know all they have to do is that very little thing and that script is going to go. But there’s this fear of success among professional writers and aspiring writers. I see it all the time and it’s just a shame.

And I can see the person’s talent is really, really good, but in their own minds, they’re so scared, they’re so afraid that it’s actually going to go to pilot. Then what? Their entire life changes. I think they have to be ready for success or ready to move to the next step.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WRITER?

I know it’s so overused, but passion, genuine passion. There’s a difference. You can tell when someone is just trending, just looking at what might be happening and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, yeah I’ve got the next great whatever it is.”

I really think when someone has a combination of passion and intelligence about what the market is. It isn’t just a naive passion, there’s that level of authenticity that just shines through certain scripts and projects.

WHAT CAN WRITERS DO TO SET THEMSELVES APART?

They really have to have a brand. I know it’s sort of become a cliché and everybody says it, but we truly have to understand why your story about the Alaskan wilderness and a journey that was taking place there is better than, different than, more effective than, more compelling than the other 2 or 3 that I have on my desk at the same time. So the person who has their brand down, understands who they are, presents themself in that professional manner, is going to be more appealing and someone I want to work with than the person who’s just submitting another script on this topic.

Again it goes back to that passion, that you can tell if a person is really constructing this from that point of I want to resonate to the audience versus I want to write this to make a lot of money, and nothing wrong with that.  If it’s a commercial project, that sometimes is the project that goes. But a writer on their own can differentiate themselves from others by doing quality work, presenting the project with a brand that I’m going to remember.

You want to get to the point where, often we need writers to rewrite projects and so if you’ve presented that wildlife type of topic, the next time, 6 months down the road, two years, whatever that I get a project in, but it needs to be rewritten, I know I can call that person. It’s like oh, yeah, she’s the one who’s really good on this, I have to get her to do that rewrite. That’s the point you want to get to as a writer.

WHAT CAN WRITERS DO TO BE MORE PREPARED FOR THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS?

I think going to conferences like the conferences at Screenwriters World Conference West, and listening to the panels and understanding what development people do, I think it’s really good for them to be exposed to why your script is being rejected. Why your characters aren’t working. And they start to understand the process, so they understand the person they’re pitching to hears 12 to 15 to 20 pitches a day. Put yourself on the other side of the table. I know writing scripts, it’s not easy, but it’s also not easy for the executive who has the pressure of the budget, of is it going to make money, are we gonna look like an idiot if we produce this idea.

They can only green light a certain amount of projects so your script really has to be ready to go or near to that. And if you’re exchanging even that pitch with them or a meeting, they’re going to remember you. It’s that 6 degrees of separation thing where all right, not now, but I remember this writer and she was really great and her project was good, but it wasn’t what we needed. I hope she comes back. I hope she queries again or calls or emails because I’d like to see whatever she has next and that really does happen.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS

If you can find even on Craigslist where someone shooting a web series or they’re shooting an independent film, volunteering to help them rewrite their script or work with them if they’re open to that because then it’s produced. You can then use that as I helped to script doctor this project. You’re not going to get any money, but you’re going to get that opportunity to rewrite something.

I think reading scripts is a really good thing to do. It’s not writing, but you’re reading other people’s work and you can see and compare yourself.

And the formatting is really important. A lot of my students, a lot of young writers are just, “Oh, I don’t have to do that.” But it is so important that your format is exactly the way it should be, because it shows your level of professionalism. The minute you read something that doesn’t have that, you can tell.

ANY OTHER THOUGHTS?

The words that you have, the information, the scripts that you have, it’s going to help someone down the way.   Don’t give up.  Keep writing.

Laurie’s book The Writer’s Advantage: A Toolkit for Mastering Your Genre explores ways to preserve good storytelling within the 21st century transmedia marketplace and helps writers to prepare and develop their projects.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Laurie Scheer

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

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by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how industry pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Today we explore another aspect of the industry with a true advocate for writers, Laurie Scheer, a former vice president of programming for WE: Women’s Entertainment. She has worked as an assistant, d-girl, and producer for ABC, Viacom, Showtime, and AMC-Cablevision. Laurie has been an instructor at universities across the U.S. from UCLA to Yale and is currently part of the faculty at UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies Writing Department, Director of their annual Writer’s Institute and Managing Editor of the The Midwest Prairie Review Journal.

WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS INDUSTRY?

I grew up in the Midwest. It’s very cold there. There’s not a lot to do there in the winter. I’m an only child and I just had a lot of time to myself. I loved watching episodic television and listening to music. It just dawned on me, I want to work in this industry. I want to be behind the scenes of a television show or behind the scenes of a music group or something like that.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?

My first entry-level job was as an assistant to the Manager of Dramatic Development at ABC Entertainment in Century City. It was a secretary job. I got the job because I knew how to type.

They had two jobs open, comedy development and dramatic development. I didn’t know what either one was. I just thought, you know, comedy that’s going to be really simple. Drama’s gonna be a lot more complicated. There’s going to be lots of character development. So I just went with drama. It didn’t pay much but it was absolutely wonderful and within 6 months on that job I learned more than I did in my 4 years of college.

WHAT CAME NEXT FOR YOU?

I stayed at ABC a couple years in that position and that sort of started that don’t stay at the same job for more than two years. You can move within a company, you can move to another company, but essentially the thought was don’t stay in the same job for two years. Start looking.

So ABC at the time was opening up a movie division, ABC Motion Pictures, and they needed someone. Again an assistant, but it was a higher assistant in Marketing. So I went then to Marketing and I learned a lot about marketing and marketing of films, not television series. So already within my first three or four years I was starting to span between television and film and I started to realize that I have to hone this down. What am I going to do? Do I like television? Do I like film?

That position lead then to a new pilot that was being made and I thought, “Oh I’ll try production.” And they gave me the job, which was very lovely because I had already proven myself. Many people wanted this job as a Production Assistant making next to nothing, 12 to 16 hour days, an unbelievable amount of work and I took it.

That was on a show called Moonlighting, which was Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd and I lasted for 6 episodes. I did not like production at all. That was not for me, but I’m glad I did it because I learned a lot.

Then I heard about a job at Viacom in story, back to development, story analyst. I was fortunate enough to get it and then that was 10 more years at Viacom.

At that time Sumner Redstone had purchased Viacom, so we had been developing shows for NBC, for ABC, for the networks, but then because MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon and VH1 were under the umbrella of Viacom, they came to us because we had been developing shows traditionally and those networks were not developing first run shows yet.

So we started to look at a lot of content for those networks, in which I was so fortunate because I was developing things like Real World, Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy, just an amazing amount of stuff, a lot of Showtime shows and movies and also acquisitions. So that developed into learning a lot about cable and I moved up from story analyst to manager, Director of Development.

WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

One of the best pieces of advice was that I was feeling intimidated because I had come from the Midwest and here I was working in this Development Department with 4 or 5 extremely intelligent, at least to me they seemed very intelligent, very distinguished people. They had been already developing all these shows and here I am, I’m just sort of, I really don’t know what’s going on.

And I would often feel kind of intimidated and my boss at the time, a wonderful woman, said, “What do you think? What do you think about this particular pilot?”   And I’m like, “You’re asking me?” And she said, “Yes, I’m asking you because you have watched more television than anybody else in the department. You’re from the Midwest. You’ve probably watched television.”

And she was right. I had watched more television. I knew what was going on in the middle of the country. I knew how people really watched TV. They were in those offices already, sort of an ivory tower kind of thing where they had lost that reality.

So the best advice was for her to shift that, for her to make me realize that yeah, I did know. In an unusual way, I definitely did know more than they did. And that helped. That gave me confidence.

COMING FROM A BACKGROUND IN DEVELOPMENT, WHAT GENERAL ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

If you’re a writer you’re going to keep writing and so I encourage everyone, don’t give up. Get your voice out there. You’re going to resonate to someone.

Coming Soon: Laurie shares insights from her years working with professional and aspiring writers.

Laurie’s book The Writer’s Advantage: A Toolkit for Mastering Your Genre explores ways to preserve good storytelling within the 21st century transmedia marketplace and helps writers to prepare and develop their projects.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path – Jason Richman

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

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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.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jason Richman’s dedication to “just keep writing” has led him to a successful career in both film (Bad Company, Bangkok Dangerous) and television (Detroit 1-8-7, Lucky 7).

ON HOW HE FOUND HIS WAY TO FILM WRITING

I always loved movies and I was playing in a band at the time. The guys in my band took off to go back up some guy on tour, so I had time to kill and I just tried it. I decided I was going to write an idea for a film and I just wrote one.

And you know, the first one is always really easy. The first time you write a script, somehow it’s just seamless, it just kinda comes out. And I knew nothing, so I didn’t know how hard it was.

THE JOURNEY TO A WRITING CAREER

That script got me an agent and it almost got made. It was kind of an amazing roller coaster. I really didn’t know anything about the business, but the movie almost got made. And then it all, of course, fell apart.

And so I then went into the independent world for a couple years, and nearly got a film made there. It was the second thing that I wrote. It was a paying gig, that was cool. And that sort of sustained me for a little while. That whole time my agent’s sending me out, I’m taking meetings and trying to break in and get someone to say yes, which is like an impossible thing. You just hear, no, no, no, no everywhere you go for so long you embrace it. And then finally somebody said yes.

The yes was a job at Bruckheimer for a movie called, at the time, Black Sheep. It was a rewrite that I rewrote. I turned in my first draft and the movie got green-lit, which was astounding. Then I got an overall deal there and worked there.

The film turned into Bad Company, which was a Chris Rock, Anthony Hopkins movie. That was really boot camp for me because I think I went into that movie when I got hired and they told me it was green-lit and they said, “Now you’re going to get replaced.” I didn’t really understand what that meant. But there were a lot of writers that ended up coming onto that film, but it was a great experience. I learned a ton.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FROM GOING OUT WITH THAT FIRST SCRIPT TO GETTING YOUR FIRST REAL, REGULAR GIG?

Four years. Four years doesn’t seem that long looking back on it now, but it felt like a really long time. I was kind of a struggling musician for a good 8 years before that so it all seems like one creative struggling period.

The pathway doesn’t feel apparent. When you’re looking and saying how do I get to a certain place, it doesn’t feel like you could ever get there. Just somehow, you’re put in front of the right person at the right time. Luck passes your way at the right moment that you’re ready for and all of a sudden you’re there.

WHAT WAS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU GOT AS YOU WERE BREAKING IN?

Before I ever got into television, I had to take a meeting with a bunch of television agents and the thing that they told me was, “Make sure if you’re going to do a TV show that you love it.”

And that ended up being the best advice, because in my experience you end up surrendering so much of your life and your time. Time away from your family, time away from your kids and you’re so deep in it that you gotta love it. If you don’t love it, it would be really hard to do it every day. So that was the best advice I ever got. Now it helps in the selection if I’m developing pilots and stuff like that. I really consider that.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

Be persistent, keep writing and keep going, because the breaking in thing is very strange. I thought I broke in and I really didn’t. I thought when you get an agent that you’re on the way; that you’re on the road.

But it took me four years to get hired for real on something in this town. That I think is short for a lot of people. A lot of people spend a lot more time than that. So I feel very fortunate. But I think the key is to just keep going. You can’t give up.

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie, Chapter 7 – Four Bad Things

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by Leesa Dean

This has been a crazy week.  A lot of ups and downs. Did four really awesome podcasts and radio shows (thank you Surfing AliensGeek Supremacy ProjectWide Open Radio After Dark and Comedy Girls!!)  Also have some potentially really exciting news that I’ll share sometime soon.  But one thing in particular stood out.  I was contacted by a large online network.  They said they loved my work and wanted me to drop what I was doing to animate (and help develop)  a series for one of their top stars.  Sounds exciting?  Not really.  What they offered in terms of compensation was, let’s just say this–I’d make more money being a Walmart greeter.  With that in mind, this week I decided to put together this list:

FOUR BAD THINGS YOU’LL PROBABLY EXPERIENCE WHILE LAUNCHING YOUR FIRST WEB SERIES:

1) You will hear from psychos. Case Study: The Satan Lady. I posted the latest Lele Episode, Pimp Logic, on Google +. A woman who apparently didn’t realize I was mocking pimp logic commented and called me “Satan!” But she misspelled it and wrote, “Go way, SATIN!!!” I considered responding, “Satan, Satin, Satan, Satin, let’s call the whole thing off” then realized hmmm, maybe she thought I *was* a pimp and “Satin” was my pimp name. #ThingsI’llNeverKnow.

2) You will have people enter (what I call) “The Vortex”, a metaphorical tunnel where everyone’s there to do just one simple thing: NOT RETURN YOUR CALLS. Sometimes it has to do with them being bombarded with a ton of stuff and you’re low on the food chain. Sometimes it’s cause they have bad time management skills. And sometimes it’s because they think your project sucks, you suck or a zesty melange of both!  FYI, you’ll ALWAYS think it’s the latter. Which brings me to:

3) You will start seeing the upside of being an alcoholic. Note: this applies even if you don’t drink.

And finally,

4) You will go through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, Web Series style:
• Denial (“All I have to do is put my show up on YouTube and it’ll instantly go viral!”)
• Anger (“When they said, ‘Just a dollar and a dream!’ I didn’t realize they were referring to what my actual compensation would be.”)
• Bargaining (“Yes, I will appear on your 30 minute podcast, Xylophones & Madrigals, and agree to a 45 minute phone ‘pre-interview’ where you grill me about what I’m gonna say on the show just so I can promote my hip-hop oriented web series to an audience of one: the host of Xylophones & Madrigals.”)
• Depression (“I was just on Xylophones & Madrigals.”)
• Acceptance (“Hi, I’m writing to book my second appearance on Xyophones & Madrigals.”)

Next week: more about Rollo and tales from the YouTube workshop!