“Launch Pad is a contest that was created to mine for amazing new voices, not to make money…When you enter your script—they’re waiting to find you so they can get your script into the right hands for it to actually go somewhere.”
The Tracking Board is proud to present a “Get to know your Launch Pad Mentors” edition of the Mini Series, our new series highlighting our candid interviews with working writers and filmmakers. In this series, we meet with passionate individuals who discuss their writing process and the insight that they’ve gained by working in the industry. In collaboration with the 2015 Launch Pad Pilots Competition, we’ve set out to talk with writers working in television today. From their humble beginnings to their big breaks, these writers give us the inside track on what it takes to write for a network.
TB contributing writer Miley Tunnecliffe sat down with Talia Gonzalez and Bisanne Masoud, two dynamic writing partners currently staffed on the 5th season of the hit MTV series Teen Wolf and this year’s official mentors for Launch Pad Pilot Competition winners. In 2013 they were top 25 finalists in The Tracking Board’s first Launch Pad Features Competition with their script 20 Minutes South. They took some time out to chat with us about about their journey so far; working in the Teen Wolf writers room; industry lessons and becoming mentors for the upcoming Launch Pad Pilot competition winners.
——————⇒ What’s been the biggest industry lesson that you’ve learned, maybe the hard way, that’s helped you in your career?
Talia: This was another lesson from when I got staffed on Teen Wolf. You have this pinnacle you’re working so hard and so long for. You think—Well if I can just reach this career goal then my life will be complete. Not to say that I wasn’t thrilled with getting staffed. But I had a second where I realized—one artistic success doesn’t make a happy life.
You have to consistently remember that even though you give everything to your art, it’s your career, which is a small piece of the bigger whole. If you win an Oscar, the next day you still go back to your regular life. And you’re going to move the goal post a little further away because that’s what artists do. You get some success and then you say, okay, now I want the next thing. The life lesson is that you have to live a full life. Which seems obvious, but it was glaringly obvious to me when I reached this huge success that I had been working on for many years.
Bisanne: I think we both had the same reaction to that. We both went—that’s fantastic! But you come home and you still have cockroaches in your apartment.
It doesn’t fix everything. Your life is essentially the same.
——————⇒ How do you keep that balance?
Talia: We’re like business owners most of the time. No one is telling us when to work. You can spend all day, everyday thinking and working on your projects if you wanted.
What’s great about writing with a partner is that when Bisanne and I write, we’re productive. We set a schedule and we stick to it. That should be the same for any writer—set working hours for yourself and set time for other things as well. Hours for work, hours for play and then you don’t have to feel guilty.
——————⇒ Teen Wolf was your first staffing position and you’re currently on your mid-season hiatus. Was it like what you expected? How did it differ from your expectations?
Talia: It feels like play. Most of the work I’ve done before, felt like work, like you’re punching a clock. One of the things that people had said to us beforehand, which turned out to not be true was that there’s a hierarchy in the room and, as a staff writer, you’re not supposed to talk too much.
Teen Wolf is only a small room, seven of us in total. But our boss was very generous in setting down that there was no hierarchy, meaning the staff writer’s ideas were just as worthy as the co-EP’s. We went to work everyday knowing we should be ready to give all ideas we’ve formulated. It was nice to feel that everyone was on equal footing.
There’s nothing more frustrating then people giving you notes for their version of your story. Give notes on the story in front of you. Not the story you would tell.
Bisanne: Each room is going to be different though. There are definitely rooms where if you’re a staff writer and you’re always spewing out pitches, they’re going to be irritated with you. You have to take the temperature of the room. Our showrunner was very clear with us. He told us to come in and pitch—you’ll never pitch too much. Which is great because it’s a challenge to come up with more and more and more ideas. Being able to do that will serve you well.
Before Teen Wolf I was a writer’s assistant for Davey Holmes, an EP, on Shameless. And he said a similar thing about the hierarchy in the rooms. The people who keep track of that stuff—if they know that this person is one level below and this person is two above—well those people are usually tools.
——————⇒ What was it like working for Davey Holmes?
I lucked out, working for him. I never actually worked for Shameless but he brought me into the room a couple times so I could see what it was like, which was great.
When I started working for him he was developing a pilot for FOX that was shot, but didn’t get picked up. It was an amazing experience. I’d been working for him for a little over a month at that point, and he said Warner Brothers wanted him to have a full-time assistant on the lot while they shot the pilot. I said yes! I would love to do that! Also… I have no idea what that means. I remember he asked me, what are you afraid of? That you’ll be bored? I was like, ah no. I’m not afraid I will be bored. I’m afraid I will have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. He just waved that off like, eh, you’ll figure it out.
I got to see the whole process of a pilot getting put together from script to finished product. And I got to meet people at Warner Brothers and JWP and now that we’re going in for staffing meetings, there are some familiar faces there, which is really nice. And Davey’s written us some amazing rec’s. I really can’t say enough good things about him. I consider him a mentor and I really hope we get to work for him at some point.
——————⇒ It’s great that you’ve had that champion for your career and now you’re going to be mentors for the Launch Pad Pilot competition, a new feature that’s been introduced this year. Tell us what we can expect from you as mentors?
Bisanne: I expect to meet some amazingly talented writers and to be there for support. Being able to give advice and share our experiences with them. Truthfully, that’s what helped us the most when we were starting out. No writer is the same, so getting to know our mentees and their creative and career goals is important. Not to mention it’s another chance for the writer to be making relationships, which is really great too. We just want to be helpful any way we can.
Talia: Yeah especially if the writers are from out of state, we still want to be able to share our knowledge with them and give them a slice of what the landscape is like here. Your geographic location doesn’t stop the flow of writing and us from taking a look at pages. I love that aspect of it. It’s good to know what fellowships to apply to and what contests are legitimate. Because there are a lot of them and entry fees are expensive so you want to be strategic. If they’re thinking about making the move to LA, we want to share what mixers to go to and who to know – all of that stuff. You can learn it organically but it takes time. I’m hoping that’s something we can share that will be beneficial to them. The cheat-sheet! Hopefully that will get these writers a little be further ahead and faster.
Anytime you mentor someone, it also helps you to realize—Oh I guess I have learned a few things. It’s very gratifying to help people because people have helped us and you have to pass that forward.
Bisanne: You start to realize what you know when you’re forced to articulate it to another person. Anytime you give someone notes, you always learn something. Sometimes you’re reading something and you can see something problematic and the same thing applies to your own work.
Giving feedback challenges you to look at something in depth. It’s a skill you can apply to your own writing when you’re stuck and you’re thinking—I just don’t know how I’m going to fix this problem. That’s really what writers do. We’re problem solvers. Yes we’re storytellers, but you have one story and within that story there are a million problems to solve.
That’s where you’re going to be useful in a room because what you have in a room is just a ton of story problems. If you add something new to episode 2, you have to move something to episode 3 but that thing in episode 4 can’t happen now so you have to go back to episode 2… If you can track that stuff and keep an organized mind, it’s extremely helpful. It’s an organized process and a big part of it is tracking timelines. Especially on a TV show when you have years and years of story. I think the more you read the better you get at tracking.
Consider all the notes. Because sometimes the note that you thought wasn’t worthwhile, if you really look at it, you realize they were right.
Talia: Also when you’re reading someone else’s work, it’s not about what I would do with the story, because it’s not your story. It teaches you to develop a skill set where you’re looking at the structure they’ve put in, what their vision is for it and you’re trying to help them problem solve within that.
That’s very similar to working on a show. Teen Wolf isn’t ours, it’s Jeff Davis’. We’re supporting his vision within the context of what he’s put forth.
Bisanne: There’s nothing more frustrating then people giving you notes for their version of your story. Give notes on the story in front of you. Not the story you would tell. That’s the best way to be respectful of someone’s work when you read it. Honor what they’re trying to do and help them figure out how to do what they’re trying to do better.
Talia: I remember when we finished our feature script 20 Minutes South, there were people who wanted it to be like The Town. It was also a Boston based film and it’s hard to not say—well maybe that’s what it should be. You have to stand your ground and say that’s not the story you’re telling. But there’s always going to be people who will try and push you in a different direction.
When you’re writing towards the goal that something is going to be made, there is always that push and pull of sticking to the story that you want to tell and also having enough flexibility so that it will eventually leave your computer. At every level I think that’s always going to be a lesson. Something you’re always going to be feeling out.
Bisanne: Right, the notes lesson is never going to leave you alone. You’re going to have network executives giving you notes. Some of which will be amazing and will make your story so much better. And other ones where you’ll think, they’re making my story into an unholy mess. You hear so many stories about that. There are some network executives in development and that is absolutely what they should be doing. They’re not writers, they don’t want to be. But they’re story machines. There are other executives who wish they were writers and they’re determined to rewrite you.
It’s always about trying to figure out which notes to take. Definitely consider all the notes. Because sometimes the note that you thought wasn’t worthwhile, if you really look at it, you realize they were right. There’s something there that you didn’t want to admit, or see. But that’s where it’s hard—not every note is valid and it can be difficult to see which notes to take and which notes not to take.
When you read that first barrage of notes you can feel just awful. Just take them one by one. It’s important to learn how to take notes because that’s never going to end. And be gracious and say thank you, because when someone spends time looking at your stuff it’s an amazing gift.
Talia: That’s the great part about these contests as well. Even if you live in some town and you don’t know any other writers, it’s a good way to start making friends, even if they’re virtual friends, that you can pass along your work to.
Bisanne: There’s no reason you can’t reach out to the other people who place and exchange scripts.
——————⇒ After your experience, would you recommend the Launch Pad competition to fellow writers?
If you have a script that you have worked hard on and you believe in—Launch Pad is the contest to submit it to.
Talia: Yes I would whole-heartedly recommend Launch Pad as one of the number one contests to enter.
Bisanne: Especially now that I know the people behind Tracking Board. They’re gregarious, determined, and they know a ton of people. But they really want to help. They want to help people make good things.
Talia: And it’s a contest that was created to mine for amazing new voices, not to make money. I can’t say that’s the same of every contest out there. When you enter your script—they’re waiting to find you so they can get your script into the right hands for it to actually go somewhere.
Bisanne: That’s how The Tracking Board gauges the success of Launch Pad. Not, how much money did we get in entry fees, but how many of these writers are going to have careers? How many writers have now moved a step further or had someone new see their work?.
As alums of the contest we’re always getting emails about new features and events. They have our bios on the website and those pages look so great. And for the writers who aren’t repped yet, there are links to request their scripts, which is great.
Talia: If you have a script that you have worked hard on and you believe in—Launch Pad is the contest to submit it to.
Contributor Miley Tunnecliffe is -based actress and screenwriter, known for the short films “Love in a Disabled Toilet,” “Bye Bye Lulu,” and “Barnesy’s Numbers.” Her comedic road-trip script, “Run Santos Run,” recently placed in the top 5% of 7500 unproduced screenplays entered in 2014’s Academy Nicholl Fellowships. She is also a co-head of Red Milestone Productions, which is based in Western Australia.
Follow Miley on Twitter: @mileytunn