This is Part 2 of How I Broke Into TV Writing. Click here to start at the beginning.
To recap: I was working full-time at the Apple Store while interning unpaid two days a week at swanky but vacant development/modeling agency. I had to leave because the company was going nowhere. And so was I.
By chance, my one friend in LA, the one that I had barely kept in contact with over the past three years, sent me an internship posting from the UTA List.
For those of you who don’t know, the UTA list was (is?) a listing of the industry assistant jobs. The list’s existence was an open secret but I’d never heard of it.
The gig was for a comedy internship at screenwriter Scot Armstrong’s development company. He had made his name writing films like OLD SCHOOL and TROPIC THUNDER and was involved with talent from the UCB theatre. It was exactly what I was looking for.
I fired off an email that played up my interest in the position and downplayed my lack of industry experience and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I followed up. It’s a thing I hate to do but have found more often than not you must.
People don’t get back to you because it’s personal. They don’t get back to you because life is busy. A little nudge is just fine.
The hiring manager was Scot’s and his partner’s assistant. She was apologetic for not getting back to me sooner (they had like twenty projects in development at the time) and we set up a time to meet.
I was… unqualified? No phone experience. No industry experience. No agency experience. What I did have was a passion for comedy, TV, and oh I was an Apple tech. That might have cinched it because having someone in house who can troubleshoot Mac and iPhone problems is apparently a hot commodity in Hollywood.
In my interview, I was open, asked questions, and listened. I was way over dressed in my business causual, khaki-polo chic. I must have been a sight to see, this normie walking through the very hipster Sunset Junction.
Whatever it was, I clicked for them and they hired me. My main job was answering the phones, which was terrifying. I can’t explain why. I had managed huge public huge events for the Padres and high-profile clients. At Apple, I dealt with all kinds of people. All. Kinds. I’m a good communicator and problem-solver. But for some reason the phones were so intimidating.
For one, there’s a method to it. You have to be brief and you have to remember everybody. More to that point you have to down names and phone numbers, which I always forgot to do and which people hate to repeat. And some calls are more important than others. Nobody tells you this. You figure it out as you go, which incidentally is the best way to describe a career in entertainment.
Thankfully the assistant was very helpful and kind and supportive. In fact, she’s still a friend to this day and a colleague who I go to for help often.
When I wasn’t wrangling the phones, I would eavesdrop on the the general meetings the producers took. I had no idea how development worked (or that it existed) so being able to be so close to the action was enlightening.
We weren’t in a typical office space. It was an old craftsman in Silverlake. My desk was by the front door so I greeted everyone and the meetings happened right behind me in the “living room.”
I listened and kept a mental list of what worked and didn’t work in these meetings. The terrible canned openings. The forced connection. The good, the bad, and the almost always ugly of pitching. The desperation. The confidence. The excitement. The boredom. Development can be a real ride.
The producers were amazing to work for. Each of them took time to sit down with me, get to know who I was, and find out what I wanted to do. It was intimidating and embarrassing to not know exactly what I wanted to do. But it was a good kick in the pants to think about my career in a more serious way.
I was there for almost a year. I enjoyed what I did (even phones) but I could sense it was almost time to move on. Thankfully, a huge opportunity came up: the producers needed a set PA on a pilot they were shooting for NBC. I didn’t know at the time but the seeds for my career were planted that day they hired me to help out.
The pilot was BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, written by and starring the amazing Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. I was familiar with them from my improv days at the UCB LA and got to know them a teensy bit as they were developing the pilot. They were (and are) kind, gracious, open, and extremely funny people who go against every “Hollywood” stereotype.
Shooting the pilot was an interesting experience. I was back to not knowing anything having never worked on a professional set before. I had shot my own stuff in college but this was next level. Naturally, because I had no experience, they assigned me to the most important job on set: making sure the broken stage door didn’t slam during takes.
For twelve hours a day, five days a week, I stood by and guarded that goddamn door like my life depended on it. And you know what? It didn’t slam once. I also helped out the AD a few times with odd jobs so I got taste for what an actual PA does on set. They even asked me to be stand-in for a few shots (shhh don’t tell the union).
I was self-concious about my lack of experience so I tried to compensate by being as helpful and positive as I could be. Even if it was guarding a door. I was someone you wanted to work with. I came with solutions not problems. It’s a simple but extremely effective mindset and it’s something that I’ve always tried to embody no matter my role.
After we shot the pilot, I went back to interning while we waited to hear on a pickup. It came down to the wire, the last hour of the last day, but in the end, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER was picked up for a six episode mid-season run.
I had made it known to the producers that if the show was picked up I’d love to work in the writers’ room. I had no experience doing this but I had proven my value and attitude.
I was person they wanted to work with.
Tune in for my next post where I continue the story of How I Broke Into TV Writing and tell you about my first time setting foot in a writers’ room.