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Career Conversations: Transcript: Writing for Television

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CAREER CONVERSATIONS: DISCUSSION BETWEEN YA LIBRARIAN LLYR HELLER AND TELEVISION WRITERS, SAMEER GARDEZI, ROBIN HENRY, AND SASHA STROMAN

MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining us on this month's career conversation, Writing for Television.

Just quick housekeeping rules.  One, please turn off your cell phones ‑‑ myself included. Two, restrooms are actually right outside that exit sign underneath. We're right above the restrooms so if you need.

Again, thank you so much for joining us on this lovely Saturday. Excuse my voice, I'm getting over a cold.

Please help me to welcome our speakers.  We have Robin Henry. We have Sameer Gardezi. And we have Sasha Stroman. We are very excited to hear about their work adventures.

All right. So we will just get this started the easy way. Describe what you do and, in terms of schooling, what do you recommend for your careers? 

>>  Describe what I do. Right now I'm the EP on a show on Netflix called The Toys That Made Us. I came up through writing sitcoms. Then I did a few dramas. I've done a few talk shows and things like that where I wrote the monologues for the comedians and that sort of thing. 

I was a journalist for a long, long, long, long time with newspapers, and so I have a journalism degree. So I had been a writer long before I got into television. So that's how I ended up here. So I would say it's always good to get something in the writing arena. I wasn't a creative writer, but it still helped me to learn to write and to write on deadline with a certain pace. Things like that so...

>> I am Sameer Gardezi. I am a writer, producer; currently working on a couple things, a lot of half‑hour formats in digital space.

I came through much boring way than yourself. I just went to school at SC for film. Thought I would get a job immediately after, was unemployed. Then luckily enough, I had applied to this writing fellowship program at Nickelodeon.  So once unemployment was about to run out, thankfully, I was able to get to be part of the Nickelodeon family.

>>  My name is Sasha. I went to undergrad not knowing what I wanted to do. When I was done, I actually worked as a journalist for a few years and I realized oh, I can write and I can write on deadline.

I've always loved movies and television maybe that's something that I can do.  Like a way to enter that world is through writing, which I hadn't considered before.

So I applied to USC for grad school in screen writing, which you absolutely do not have to do. Cause I think you can learn how to become a screen writer through workshops and through books and through other mediums. But I had that and, for me, I'm the kind of person who likes a traditional learning experience. So schooling for me was actually helpful, but I don't think it's necessary for everyone.

And then, after that, I also did the Nickelodeon writing program for a year, which was great because they basically pay you to become a better writer for a year.  I encourage everybody who is interested in writing half‑hour animation to seek that out. And then through that, it was just basically from one job to another. Hustlin'.

>>  I forget to mention that the format will be ‑‑ I'll ask some questions, but then we'll take audience questions so it's more of a relaxed conversation.

But my follow‑up question to that is you mentioned the fellowship, are there where you currently work internships for people that are in high school or college or not in school? 

>>  Internships.  I mean, I feel like if you want to write for a TV show, there's usually not interns; there's PAs, which is a good way to get in the door on a TV show if you're either a writer's PA or just a production PA.

 But there a lot of different writing programs for people who don't have professional credits yet in the industry like a Disney.  ABC has one. CBS has one. Nickelodeon has one. They're very diversity friendly, female‑writer friendly.  So, if you're any of those things, definitely pursue that.

 Yeah, do you have any?  

>>  Yeah. There's actually a couple high school resources not specifically for screenplay writing or teleplay writing but of that same world.  If you were interest in creative writing just in general, one organization is 826. They are based out of Echo Park on Sunset Boulevard. I know LA Manual Arts has a program, but of course you have to go there. I would say that definitely it's something to advocate for. 

So if you are a part of a high school, especially a public high school, it's worth mentioning it to people that control the extracurricular programs. Because a lot of discussions are happening on the more grander level of how to create creative workforces that can easily integrate more into Hollywood.

If you think about it, Hollywood, you can't avoid it. It's a huge economic system that happens within LA County.  Yet you see very few people that come from the LA school system or just LA area in general that get access to it. So I would say, if your school doesn't have a program, this is the right time to start talking about it and building around it.

>>  Nickelodeon actually has a good ‑‑

>>  Nickelodeon has an initiative called NICE. College and high school students ‑‑ yeah. You can just go on their website.  Type in Nickelodeon and then nice.  And that's a community outreach organization.

>>  You said (Inaudible)

>>  Manual Arts. It's just a high school. And 826 ‑‑ eight, as in the number ‑‑ 826 is the original organization.

>>  The only thing I'll add is writer's write. I mean that's what we do. So for me, I just remember I wrote for anybody who would let me write for them. And I was further away from Hollywood than you could ever imagine. I was living in Atlanta.  I was working at a newspaper and managing a newspaper in Atlanta. I wasn't anywhere near Hollywood and never thought I would be near Hollywood, but there was a sketch comedy crew there.  And I said, could I come write for you?  And I started writing for them. I just wrote. I actually got seen by some of Tyler Perry's people.

I just wrote. I wrote for anybody for free. Nobody was paying me to write. I was just writing. What do you need me to write?   I'll write it for you. What do you need?   A little program?   A little church wants to do a play?  I'll write it. That's what writer's do. Writer's write.

A lot of people say I don't know how to write or I want to be a writer. All that takes is for you to sit down at that computer right now and start writing. You're a writer. That's what you are. Writer's write. That's what we do.

So I don't always think about waiting for someone else to pick you to write. Just write. That's what I would say. That's my two cents.

>>  Any audience questions so far?   Yes?  

>>  Is there a producer's training program you know of?  

>>  For producing?  

>>  Producing means a couple different things. In television producing can also mean writing. For instance, being an executive producer means you're the show runner.  You're the head writer. So by producing, do you mean creative executive that's bringing people together and packaging material to take to a studio?  Or do you mean producing services in the sense that you're a writer, but you want to be intimately involved in the production of the piece? 

>>  I would imagine bringing the crew together.

>>  Okay. Interesting. I know that USC has a very well‑known program called the Peter Stark Program. But short of that, I don't know. Does anyone else know?  

>>  You can look at the producer guild website.

>>  Yeah.  You can also look at the UTA job list. They also have internships at various production houses.  That may be a starting place. 

>>  Assisting a producer.  I feel a lot people come through as assistant producer. You trail that person around and see what they do. I've known a lot of people that have done it that way.  They have been a show runner assistant or something like that.

>>  Excellent.

>>  What specifically would be the process to become a writer's assistant for TV? 

>>  That's a good question.

>>  The Guild has a program. The Guild has a program for writer's assistants.

>>  Please use the microphone.

>>  I know the Writer's Guild  (WGA) has a writer's program that brings through writer's assistants.  I don't know if there's other formal ways. Usually it's word‑of‑mouth type networking. I know there are programs from the Writer's Guild.

>>  I write for ‑‑ sorry.  I write for American Dad right now, which has a big writing staff. They do a lot promoting from within. There's writers there that are co‑executive producers that start out as PAs. It also helps if the show has been on for 13 seasons. If you start as a PA and do your job well and people like you, then once you've done that job really well, people may ask you what do you really want to do other than going to the grocery store and getting coffee.  And you're like, I want to write. And if you've been cool and they like you, they'll start reading your stuff. And if they see you want to be a writer and you have an interest, then one of the writers might mentor you and you will get hired up once the writer's assistants quits or God knows what.

A lot of the time, the writer assistants will start as PAs. So, if you know anybody with connections on a TV show, getting that first job as a PA is a great way to get your foot in the door unless you have a close connection with a show runner or something like that or a friend of yours is on staff somewhere.

>>  Let me ask one quick question here since you've already covered a little bit of it. How do your day‑to‑day look like?   Because you've all worked on different formats from the talk shows to the half‑hour animation and drama, do you go to an office or are you sitting at home doing it?   Then I'll take more questions.

>>  A mixture of both. Right now I'm in development. I'm not currently working on a show so a lot of the work that I do is outside of my home or at my office. But yeah, it's very much by myself. So it's very lonely. Know that when you're in development, it's very lonely. But if you're on staff on a show, that's the whole when you walk in there's a big writer's room, production staff, et cetera. 

>>  Hers is more exciting.

>>  Yeah. We go to work every day. There's two writer's rooms sometimes three depending on what we're working on that day. There's what we call "The Big Room" where we all, all 20 of us, gather after we've had a table read or maybe a script has come in.

Once we identify what we should do with a given script, then they'll usually break us off into either the rewrite room, which stays in the big room; or the joke room, which you just go to a separate room and then they just send you jokes to come up with. Like joke areas to pitch on so that the rewriting of the script happens a little bit quicker.

And then, if there's enough people in that day, they might do a third room for story just breaking more ‑‑ breaking means like thinking of ideas for new episodes. So sometimes we'll have three different rooms going, but that's not always the case. It's just that there's a lot of people on the show particularly.

So every show is different. I've been on TV shows where you always go into the room to work every day. But if it's a live action show, for example, you might be called to go on set. Maybe, if there's a taping, you'll be there pitching jokes if it's a sitcom.  Or you all stay in the room the whole time and only the boss will go on stage.

Every show is different, but if you're on a show, you usually go in every day unless you're on script. Some shows, if you're on script, you get like two weeks to write the script or a week and they'll let you go home and write it. But mostly it's a job, you know.  It's like getting there at 10. I mean it depends on the room. Our hours are good, but some shows have very late hours. You know, you're there until the wee hours of the morning. But yeah, it just depends on your show.  But it's definitely ‑‑ you're in a place.

>>  You make some really good friends because you're in a room with like ten other people for ten hours every day. Sasha and I met on a show.  We were writing for East Los High on Hulu.   We became friends because we were there together 10 hours a day. You eat lunch together. No you don't see anybody else, but your friends that are in the room. 

But it's a lot of fun. As you can imagine, you're with the same people and you all have the same goal. You're trying to make a good TV show. You're trying to go home. It's actually a lot of ‑‑ it's really a lot of fun. You know, you meet knew people in every room you're in. Every show you're on, you're with a different set of people.  And the dramas I've been on have been totally different than the talk shows I've been on; different than the sitcom. So you meet a whole new set of people. You only work ‑‑ well in Sasha's case ‑‑ she's been on a show ‑‑ how long have you been on American Dad?  

>>  Second ‑‑

>>  Second season. I've been on various shows in different seasons. So sometimes I only work like four months at a time on a show, and then I move onto the next show, and then I move onto the next show. So it's exciting in that way. You're always starting over. You know, you get to do something new. It's not like going to the same job for like 30 years.  Although, that would be great. That would be the best.

>>  All right. Sir?  

>>  What about the entry possibility of being a writer's assistant in a writer's room; is that possible? 

>>  (Inaudible)

>>  As an assistant in a room, is that an entry way?  

>>  So Sasha mentioned this a little bit before, but if you're on a show that's been on for a very long time, they hire within their own. Then it's more likely to be a writer's assistant and then transition into becoming a writer. But if you're (Inaudible)

Yeah, but if a show just lasts for a season, then I've known many writer's assistants that get stuck in that cycle, and they're jumping from script coordinator to writer's assistant and back and forth. It can be really frustrating. I think the key to all of it is to continue writing. Unless you want to be a writer's assistant, to write so people know that you're a writer, right; this is just the holding pattern until you get your actual writing gig.

>>  What's the difference between a production assistant or PA or writer's assistant?  You say there's different ways to become a writer? 

>>  Excellent question.

>>  Huge difference.

>>  A production assistant is usually on set. It's an office PA.  So an office version of the production assistant, and they do all the heavy lifting.  So they're making sure that now only actors and actresses are getting their scripts on time. If they had rewrites in the middle of the night, believe it or not, that's still a thing. I don't know why so people really want their scripts in a hard copy. So e‑mail doesn't work. They're the people that are restocking the fridges, making sure that they're making coffee, any errand that needs to be done.

Now a writer's assistant is in the room and will assist with the office PA if needed.  But he or she, they're role is to make sure that they are catching everything that's said in the room, collating it, and basically organizing it in a way that if someone ‑‑ a writer in the room ‑‑ says hey, didn't we say something about this like two days ago; and, in a moment, they can bring it up and the room can refer to it.

So one is entirely just an assistant in the room cataloging everything. The other one is kind of a floater going every where.

>>  And it's hugely important.

>>  Yeah. 

>>  Like a writer's assistant job is so important. You have to be a really good typist. 

>>  Yeah, it's so important. We depend on that person like crazy.

>>  Miss?  

>>  What was your first job for a network or cable that you worked for people?  And how did you get it? 

>>  The question was what was your first job and how did you get it? 

>>  I was a managing editor for a newspaper and writing for fun for sketch comedy groups and writing for nothing. It was called Sketch Works in Atlanta. There was this one show they had and the head writer for Tyler Perry's studios came, and saw the show, and pulled me aside, and said have you ever considered writing for television.  And I said no, because I work at the newspaper. And I sort of just blew it off. He said if you ever think about it, write me a script and send me a spec. I was like I'm not really interested. Because I had a job. I was running the newspaper.

So what happen was I got a book by Adam Sandler.  It's a TV writer's workbook.  And I just sat at home and said I'm going to teach myself how to write like a TV script. So I wrote it. I sent it to him. I didn't hear anything for eight months. And I thought oh, it must suck and he doesn't want to tell me. It didn't suck. 

Apparently, Tyler was coming out with a new show. He called me in and said do you want to try out for this show. And I ended up trying out for the show. I thought I was just doing it for fun. I just went in sort of like yeah, I'll try out whatever. You know, whatever, I'm going to do it.

What I remember is, is that they took me into the writer's room.  I'd never been to a studio before. I'd never been anywhere before so they walk us in the studio and they take us to the sound stages and they take us everywhere. They take us into this little tiny writer's room. A writer's room is just a room with a table in it. It's nothing exciting. But they walk us in there and with all these LA writer's like the creator of Boondocks and all these other shows. He takes me in a room and I just burst into tears.

I'm not a crier, but I burst into tears because I realized even stepping in that room was more than I'd ever thought I would ever have in my life. I was like oh, my God, You really want this. You want to do this for real. Then it became very, very real to me. Cause I was just doing it like oh, this is no big deal. And it was a big deal. I ended up ‑‑ I wrote a spec script and I got picked to be one of the writer's. They said have you ever been a writer?  Have you ever done this before?   Can you do it?   I said, I don't know. Cause I don't know. I have no idea. They said well you can come on a three week try out. I said, well, I can't really do that. I have another job. And they said well that's the deal. I quit my long time job for a 13‑week try at something and it worked.

So sometimes you just have to, you know, you just have to do it. Believe me, I wasn't your guy's age. It was a hard decision to make. Just do it.

>>  I had a question for different roles in Hollywood do you have to join a union?   Do have you to be part of the Writer's Guild?   Is there such a thing?   Then, once you do that, is there more jobs out there for you?  How does that work? 

>>  I'll answer that. You don't have to? 

>> There's a Writer's Guild. You are able to join once you've fulfilled a certain quota of scripts that they've required on a guild show or if you've sold a screen play for a movie. There are certain ways in. You can't join unless you've met certain quotas that they require. Then they charge you a good amount of money to join. 

>>  And to stay. 

>>  And to stay. Then after that, it's good.  Because they can advocate for you if you're having trouble in your show in some way. There's good healthcare that comes with it. Pension which is rare these days in any kind of capacity.

>>  They don't find you jobs. 

>>  They don't find you jobs and it doesn't make getting jobs easier to be part of the guild necessarily. But you have to join eventually.

>>  It may actually work against you eventually and you may not get jobs. 

>>  Yeah.  Some jobs aren't guild.

>>  I finished reading Fisher's book about surviving the actors life. She talks about getting into the Guild and everything, about how difficult it is when an actor or actress get a job after they're own show. So as writer's, how difficult is it for you to get a job after you're on a job?   Do you get scouted?   Or do you still have to submit your work?  

>>  I wish. 

>>  It's hard for everyone, I think. I don't think any writer would say it's easy to get jobs. The more shows you're on, the more people you've worked with and can vouch for your talent or work ethic, the easier it is.  Because if their show is looking for somebody, they think of you. You have agents, and people think once I have my agent, they'll get me every job. But from my experience, it's been from word of mouth often from friends that have worked with you.

A lot of times, you need that person who will vouch for you to whoever is running the show.  Because otherwise, they want to hire somebody they can count on, that they know, that they worked with.

Writer's rooms become like families in a way. So it's like is this person going to work with everyone's personality. From my personal experience, to make a long story short, it's references, networking, friends, colleagues that's how you get your jobs.

Yeah, there's definitely months where you don't work where you're looking for a job. Hopefully it's not years, but that happens. That's what you need to know when you sign up for this job is that it won't always be constant work.

>>  (Inaudible) there's no doubt about that. 

>>  A quick follow‑up question to that. Since networking is so important and you spend so much time with different sets of people, is this a job that's good for both introverts and extroverts because you spend so much time by yourself writing.

>>   If you're a screenwriter, you can get away with that.  And by that, actually for features, motion pictures, you can get away with being an introvert. Especially, if you're not only a television writer, but working in a half hour comedy space, you don't even have to be a good writer. I'm going to flat out say, it's so personality driven. You just need to be able to play ball, make your boss love because he or she has been sitting on an idea for too long.

Hour space is a little different because they sometimes don't have rooms and the room that they even break story is very different. And they don't do traditional punch ups.  Meaning, let's make this story script better. They just get notes and come back again. It's a weird thing.

I mean, as much as I feel that the natural state of being for a writer is to be introvert, I don't think that it necessarily works with the sustainable career. You know, one of longevity. People don't understand writing who don't write if that makes sense. They know the idea of writing, but they simply can't understand you as a writer.

When they give you a note, when they give you a premise, your brain starts working in an entirely different way than theirs does. Because of that, you need to know how to do the pitch, the dog and pony show, get people excited on the same level as the idea, to be able to build on that. Because if you're just going to go, yeah, you know, structure's not going to work; I don't see Act 2 build; I don't know if we're going to get to the second plot point in time; it's not interesting. So that's what I would say about that.

>>  So it's all building on your strengths. 

>>  Oh, the microphone. 

>>  Writing is made up of people with all different strengths. I've been in that sitcom room. We do know how to write a little bit.  Some of us ‑‑ I'm just kidding.

Pitching some people are really good at pitching.  Being in a room and pitch an idea ‑‑ like being in a room and can pitch ideas ‑‑ for an episode and are really good at that, and maybe they're not the best writer's, but they are still really good to have in a room because they can come up with three ideas like super fast.

Then there's some people you can send off and they can write a script like in four days. That's another skill. You need them all in a writer's room. We're not all equal in a writer's room.  You don't have to be I'm the best writer or the best pitcher. You have to be a certain level, but you build your own strengths. You know what you're good at and you play to that in the writer's room.

>>  Yes, sir? 

>>  So let's say each of you has a job ‑‑

>>  Yay.

>>  Yay.

>>  ‑‑ at what point are you then looking to say, okay, I'm going to work with other people outside that circle to get my own show?  To be that executive producer?  And then are you always looking for somebody to make you like a Tyler Perry?   Is that important?  

>>  That's a good question. Like, I'm the EP of a show now on Netflix, I did not create that show, but I'm the show runner of that show. So you don't always have to be the creator of the show to be an EP on a show. There's other ways to be EPs. You know, have your own shows.

I probably started pitching my own ideas from the first time I got in the business. I don't know, I think the dream is to have your own show at some point. I think every writer thinks I've got the best idea ‑‑ this idea that's going to be great.

There are other ways to learn how to run your show before you have to run your own show. Then you're talking about the business like, what I do, I have the budgets I have to do. There's a whole set of things that have nothing to do with writing that I have to do as an EP on this show. I got to hire crews. I got to figure out schedules like international travel. How are we going to do this?  Who is going to do the transcription?  Did you pick a transcription place?  Like, it's a whole other world of things. I'm glad I'm learning it not on my own show.  So, when I get my own show, I'll know it already.  That's what I think.

>>  Yeah.  It depends on what you want to do. So, if you're someone that wants to have their own show, then I would say consider any of the work that you get in your day job, and always find time to write on your own, and build your ideas, et cetera because you're only going to be as powerful as your own writing. If you're just working on someone else's show and that's something you want to do, that's not going to be that helpful.

It's interesting.  The way the industry works right now is that you work up the ladder.  And, then an agent comes along and says okay now it's your time to develop. The network has you on a short list. You get an overall deal whatever it is, but there's like this weird retention rate. I think it's a huge flaw in the design of the industry because, just because you've been on the show for a long time, doesn't necessarily mean you're ripe to create ideas if that makes sense. At the same time, it sure as hell doesn't mean you're ripe to run a room and manage personalities. So that is a huge problem in the industry. 

Because you see a lot of show runners that have just ‑‑ I don't want to see fail upwards, but kind of fail upwards.  In that they were good at something, but not really good at building and mentoring and business management. So there's anything from spending, going over budget, anywhere from just really alienating younger writers, a whole host of that.  So those are things that I feel are, like, they don't teach you when you are in a writer's room. You just learn by being a part of the process and just getting experience.

But I would say, to answer your question directly, is that there's no right time. You do it. If you want to be a creator, you create. Yeah.

>>  I also feel, personally, I really enjoyed not having to be the person who's running the room. I think it's a lot of fun to be one of the writers. It's nice to get to a good level where you're not at the bottom of the totem pole, but I don't feel a pressure.  I do have ideas like everybody does, but I really enjoy being part of a team and not necessarily having to deal with a lot of the non‑writing and non‑creative process.

Personally, I'm not in any rush to do that. I also feel it takes a lot of learning honestly, if you're honest with yourself, before you can actually probably execute that role in a good way.

>>  So to follow up on that, I went to Los Angeles City College Cinema Program.  What they teach you there, is to get to that EP position.  To have your own program, you have to build your team that you go up with.  I think, what I'm hearing from you folks, those people don't matter. It's the people that are financing you, they choose the team. Is that true?  

>>  Yes and no. I mean there's going to be people that ‑‑ for instance, if I got a show tomorrow, I know a handful of writers that I would bring with me just because I trust them. But then the networks will say, "Hey, these are writers that we overall deal with; the writers we really like. Read their scripts." But, by read their scripts, means you're going to honor them, right. So there's a little bit of that. Unless you're doing things completely and independently ‑‑ and I think of the Spike Lee way of doing things ‑‑ you don't really have to look at it as this is my crew and this is my team. They're going to bring that. Just know who your ‑‑ I call it the number two and the number three ‑‑ when you leave the room, who can you trust to make sure the room is going to keep on going?  You know, the next two or three people.

>>  The team that you have connection with, but there is also (Inaudible) to adapt to whatever that outside entity is saying. 

>>  Of course.

>>  What we're going to do or you're out.

>>  Yep. Yep.

>>  Miss? 

>>  Obviously diversity is a really important topic right now.  As writers, how do you value diversity both within the media and within the work place? 

>>  Great question and I'm happy that you asked that. A 100 percent, I couldn't value it anymore. I think that for far too long the industry has been run by these certain standards. Not only has it been inequitable, but the product has suffered. So it only makes sense to be as inclusive as possible in every aspect not only in front of the screen, but behind the screen.

Some of the initiatives that we've all been a part of are fantastic and great, but I think some of the more interesting things that are happening are just young folks ‑‑ young folks of color, women of color ‑‑ just coming together creating great content. You look at Lisa Ray, she had her show on YouTube.  And she made a household name for herself just by believing in something, and being part of a process that has really galvanized the whole entire industry. For sure, diversity is so essential, so important. 

It's interesting the way people talk about it. Like oh, you know, affirmative action. It's entirely not that. It's just access has not been allowed for so long so, of course, you're going to see all this new talent all come at once because finally there's some dents where people can come in.

>>  Can you all speak to that?  

>>  I mean, you know, you work in more diverse rooms than others I think. We met in a very diverse room where it was all women, mostly women, and two gay men which is amazing. It was one of the funnest experiences I've had. I've also worked on some Nickelodeon multi cam sitcoms where they've been really, really, really rich and diverse colors, genders, everything. So it just depends, but there are still some shows that are maybe more established or more networked shows where it's mostly white men who are running the rooms, and that's the majority of the writers, but all of that luckily is starting to change. People are realizing the need for it.

If you're just now entering the TV industry, I think it's a perfect time for that. People are way more aware than they were even three, five years ago.

>>  I would also say, even when you're just starting out, you have to be of an each‑one help‑one mentality. Even when I didn't have anything, I always thought how do I help the person coming up behind me. We always think about how am I going to get in, but we also have to be thinking once I get in, how am I contributing to this. I do think that's hugely important.

I guess, a lot of times ‑‑ I don't know how to say this and it's on the podcast ‑‑ but a lot of times we feel pitted against each other. That's one way to avoid that. I got in, but they're going to allow only one black person or one women. I better not talk to her or I got to be sure she doesn't get her resume here or I lose my spot. So we too have to be open to being like hey, I know a lot of other black women that want to be on the show. I have to not be afraid to do that. When I have the opportunity, I have to be the one to say have you looked at this person?   Have you done that?  

I think we have to all take responsibility and not just the people at the top. So, at whatever level you're on, you have to be part of that.

>>  Sir?  

>>  To expand on diversity, how is the industry at large insuring that inclusion and equity is being met?  Inclusion, I mean, individuals that are disabled. And equity meaning just because you have a person of color or a different lifestyle or standard [indiscernible] who is making sure that's equitable across the table? 

>>  The real questions now.

One important thing to realize about diversity initiatives and the intersections of seeing diversity in front and behind, it's all connected to the mandates. It's all connected to money. So know that going in. It comes from this large understanding that it cannot be ignored anymore because there's a strong demo.  There's a strong market to be able to benefit from. So you're only going to get surface level conversation.

Some of the things you're asking about in terms of pay check equality and things like that, nonexistent; right. You've seen some of that stuff happen with Netflix and Moniques and stuff like that. It's just because if you have a good idea and you are coming from what they would consider a newer place or a diverse place, you're not going to get the offer that, let's say someone that created Modern Family like Chris Lloyd and Steve Levitan, because they've just worked in the industry longer. That's always going to be a thing. The only way to combat that is to basically create a product that makes money so people will see you with your work.

In terms of entry level, no. Some of the people that got these deals ‑‑ you get access to HBO, Showtime, et cetera ‑‑ they are getting the lowest deals mind you compared to some of the other people that are offered some of these deals earlier on.

In terms of inclusion, when you're talking about folks with disability and stuff like that, the Guild does actually have a specific caucus for persons with disabilities.  So that is something that is on the radar in terms of things you see in front of screens and behind the screens.

I'm not necessarily privy to those conversations, but I know that it is part of a larger vertical conversations of diversity. People are being educated and know you can't just neglect something because you don't immediately see it.  And then color is one aspect, but of course there's lot of other intersections that we have to be conscious of.

>> Does that answer your question?  

>>  I shouldn't be saying this on a podcast.  I do think a lot of times women and minorities, we're trained to think we can't take a job until we are qualified for it. I put that in quote marks. I got this. I got this.  And I got this. I think a lot of people in the majority think, I'll get this job and then figure it out when I get there and I'll do it.

A lot of times we spend time figuring I got to get this, get four degrees.  And that's why I say, "Just Do It". Just like he was saying, the Levitans have been doing it longer. They've been doing it longer because they've had more opportunity. We've got to be out to do it. We can't constantly be thinking I don't have this.  I better not do that. I don't have that. We can't have that mentality. I know, especially with women, we definitely have that sort of oh, I better not.

I say, just say yes to every opportunity. I've said yeah, I didn't know I could be a writer. I'd never been in a writer's room. I just said yes. You just figure it out when you get there.

>>  (Inaudible)

>>  There you go. Just figure it out. We don't have to be less. Then once you get in, that's how you get the experience to be able to get the more money. You can do things like that.

>>  I think, to add to something you said earlier about helping each other out, the Guild sets minimums for different levels in TV. If you're a staff writer or a story editor or whatever, you have a minimum. But that doesn't mean another story editor on your show isn't getting paid way more above the minimum and you might just be being paid the minimum. But I know of people ‑‑ and I belong to certain groups of female writers or Latina writers ‑‑ and, if you're really honest about helping each other, then you can share these things with each other.

It's like if somebody is like hey, how much did CBS pay you when you were on that show because they're offering me this and it seems really low. If we really want to help each other out, you will share that kind of information. I think because of the outrage that's happened recently about people not getting what they should be paid and that kind of stuff, it's making people mobilize and be honest and have everybody come up together in a way. So that, I think, is a positive result of maybe some more negative things that have been happening for many years. That kind of opened some dialogue, and support really helps make everybody more equal.

>>  Can I add onto that really quick?   Also on top of that, there are Guild minimums.  But this is something to really think about because this is ‑‑ not that you obviously shouldn't be doing this for the money, but if other people are making money, you might as well ‑‑ profit participation. These are the conversations that people won't let you in on because ownership is something that's entirely different than just getting paid a salary; if that makes sense. You look at the 80s, Alf for instance, the creator for Alf owned his show. That's how you make wealth. That's a whole other level. These are things to know going in.

If you have something that someone else wants, first question should be:  No, not just how much you pay me for the script.  What is my back‑end?   What is my profit participation if this becomes a movie?   If this becomes an action figure series?   Whatever it is, you are entitled to a cut of all of that. A lot of people, unfortunately, this is the new emerging talent, don't even know that and are taken advantage of. Know as a creator, as a writer ‑‑ and that's what you are ‑‑ you are entitled to a lot more than you think you are. 

>>  What about representation and the negotiation power of your reps?  Doesn't that enter this a lot? 

>>  Yes, absolutely. Your reps should advocate for you. I say "should" capital S. But at the same time, there could be a situation where your agent reps someone else on that same show, and that person may be a little higher than you or has one show on you. That's where it becomes a conflict of interest, and they may not be able to advocate for you in the same way. You have entertainment lawyers and managers that can help you out with that. But, as Sasha was saying, that hey, if you make full transparency in the beginning and make it a duty of writers to protect each other, then that's not going to be an issue. It's not going to be these conversations behind these doors about money. It's okay, this is how much we got paid. This is how much we should get paid because that's what that person got paid.

>>  Next question.  Oh, go ahead.

>>  I have a question about the approach to using connections. This is probably [inaudible] I have certain relationships with people and then you have situations where people are always asking [inaudible] how do you decide when you take advantage of that relationship professionally?  

>>  Interesting.

>>  It's a very good question.

>>  I'm still figuring that out myself.

>>  I'll take a dive. So you're asking for when you can ask for something when it's time?  So I think that you have to make sure that you feel like you're a master of your craft at that moment. Basically, you have used all the resources possible within your reach.

If you're a television writer, I would say you have three specs that are bullet proof, that you know are gold. I think, once you get to the point where you have ‑‑ you feel like you have basically your portfolio to show, then I think you can ask.

Part of my frustration with people trying to break in, you don't even have a script. Do the work. Do the hard work. Once you do the hard work, then I can say okay, this person wrote a script. Because writing a script is not easy. I think that's when you can approach people because you actually have something to say and you can back it up.

>>  I can say ask sideways. We're always thinking about asking up. Like, I'm going to call Tyler Perry and ask such and such. But asking sideways is almost always as valuable. We're all rising at different times and at different levels. I've done things for friends for free.  Like hey, read my scripts, read my scripts. One of my friends ended up getting his own show and he hired me to be on his show. But it's sideways. It's doesn't always have to be I'm going for that person. Sometimes it's the person right next to you.

You know, when Sasha gets her show, I'm on it. I'm assuming that's going to happen. But there is that sort of you all came up together and helping each other. If I had something, I would definitely say, do you know Sasha. We all know each other, helping each other.  Sometimes you don't have to ask because people know.

I think you got me a job before on Queen Latiffa ‑‑

>>  I got you a meeting.

>>  Yeah, she got me a meeting. She just happened to mention ‑‑ it's not always about looking for the person that already has it.  It's about looking at the person next to you who in a year will have it. Writers get writers jobs period. The person sitting next to you is just as likely to get you a job as the exec at ABC. Believe me, that's true. Almost every job I've gotten has been from somebody I sat with in a room who has gone onto something else and said have you met Robin.

>>  I think also, I don't know if this is part of your question, are you wondering about asking people to read your stuff? And how to do that and stuff like that? 

>>  Actual work. 

>>  Actual work they covered.   I get asked to read a lot of scripts from people who haven't had their first job or are just coming up. I try to read as much as possible and say yes as often as possible. But, as Sameer said, your script should be in the best shape as possible. Maybe have people, like friends from your level, read it and give you notes and make it as good as possible. You don't want that first impression from somebody ‑‑ even someone like me who doesn't run her own show, but who can maybe refer you to an agent ‑‑ you want that script to be as tight and as well written as possible. And know you should only ask once. So make sure it's in the best shape as possible. That's always helpful. 

You never know how to ask that question. You just ask. If they say no, then maybe they really are too busy. But then you can be like, oh, can I take you out for coffee or something.  Most ‑‑ sometimes people are legitimately too busy when they are in production.

>>  We only have about ten more minutes and I know you had a question and you had a question.

>>  I had a question.  How or where do you guys come up with your ideas?   Where do you get your inspiration from?   Then after that, once you have a script read or when you're writing on a TV show, who has the final say in what gets left in the script or what gets taken out?  What if there's a person who says I don't think that joke is funny, but you really do think it's funny, and you want to leave that part or you think it's an important part of the script; how Do you go about fixing a problem like that?  

>>  Good question.

>>  (Inaudible)

>>  Inspiration?  It depends if you're writing for yourself or for a show. If it's for yourself, then you're all thinking of a story together. At least in sitcom rooms, you're coming up with an idea together. Everybody comes in with a nugget of an idea or slightly flushed out idea, then together that idea can either sail on through or become something completely different, but maybe the initial inspiration of it is still there.

If I'm writing for myself, I usually keep a document or notes or thing on my notes app on my phone for either interesting characters, interesting situations, interesting locations and then build worlds from that if I'm trying to write an original pilot or what not. Sometimes there's like headlines, Twitter, magazines something that stood out to you. You just keep a file.  Then, when its time to actually sit down and write something, you're like oh, I remember this was interesting. Like it has to be something that interests you because you're going to be sitting with it for a long time. So just keep a file of things that you find interesting.

At work, if you really like a joke, who decides if it stays in or not?  Usually the show runner or the person who runs the room. You can fight for it a little bit, but if you fight for it too much, then people will get really annoyed at you. You have to pick your battles. Sometimes it's worth it, but usually not because jokes ‑‑ there should be more than one joke you can hang everything on and that usually changes constantly from every table draft and rewrite and run through. So jokes are something that are very disposable even though you like them. The more you hear them, the more stale they get, which is really a shame.  Because sometimes they are really funny in the draft and would have been funny when they're aired; but when you hear it at the table review; hear it at the run through; hear it at the dress rehearsal; whatever it is and then by that time, people have heard it three times and it stops being funny even though it still would be funny for the TV audience.  So unfortunately your babies will get killed, unfortunately, is what I'm saying.

>>  Will the show runner [indiscernible] in the writing room.

>>  Yeah.  It depends on the show, but it's usually there's somebody running the rewrite or running the room who will decide ‑‑

>> [Inaudible]

>>  Sometimes you're room writing, sometimes you're rewriting in a group, but the show runner ‑‑ whoever is running the room ‑‑ is the one who decides what stays in or what gets killed.

>>  Miss? 

>>  I'm just curious if ever in the future you would ever want to write a novel or work in some other venues? 

>>  I think so.  Especially for novel writing, I think the beauty of it is it's done. That's what it's meant to be. Whereas we're just glorified blueprint makers if that makes sense. I think, sometimes as a screenwriter and teleplay writer, you get so stuck in the writing but then you see it on screen and you're like, "Huh."   So much has to happen ‑‑ the right people involved, the actors, directors, editing ‑‑ it's a whole process.  That's why you have to see writing to the end. So, for sure, I would definitely want to dabble with novel writing or book writing later on in life.

>>  We are in a library. 

>>  Yeah. Good.

>>  Anyone else want to answer that question?  

(Inaudible)

>>  We had another person with a question.

>>  So quickly, you said 20 people in a room.  So how does the work get divided?  

>>  It depends on the TV show.   On the show I'm on right now, usually a group of people are rewriting a script ‑‑ that is what is called table read ‑‑ or about to go into production, or another group is writing jokes for that script.  Because there's structural rewrite is one thing, then a joke pass is another. Then there's often another group of writers that are working on a new episode idea together.

>>  Are you guys on a screen?  

>>  Yeah.  There's like a big screen so we're all writing together. But there's some shows where they stay together in the room and they are working together on the task of the day. It just depends on the show.

>>  [Indiscernible] writing on one subject or whatever. When a sample is read and whoever has the best?  

>>  It's usually everybody is writing on a script that's been written by one writer usually.  Let's say I handed in my script for this episode we're going to make, but before it goes into production and it's ready, it gets rewritten several times.  And everybody's episode gets rewritten. So in a way you went home and you wrote your writer's draft, but when you showed up to work, it goes through everyone's hands in a group setting kind of way to make sure that all the voices of the characters are true, that it speaks to the show.

I mean, it depends on how long you've been on the show. Sometimes if you've been there for 10 years, they don't really rewrite you that much. If you are a staff writer, then you will have a bigger read out on your script. It's very collaborative.

On our show and on most shows, you do get to go home and write a draft, but once it comes back, it usually gets everybody's opinions and, you know, hands‑on in a way. It depends on the show, but yeah.

>>  Well, unfortunately, we are out of time. I wish we could stay all day. Thank you all so much for being here.  Definitely look out for the podcast. We take a break next month. We're back June, July, and August.

Thank you.

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