The Tracking Board is proud to present 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 honor of this week’s kick-off of the 2015 Launch Pad Pilots Competition, we’ve set out to talk with writers working in television today.
TB contributing writer Miley Tunnecliffe first sat down with comedian Nadia Bacon, a freelance TV writer based in Los Angeles. As an emerging talent, she was staffed on her first show, season one of About a Boy, for NBC. She talks with us candidly about the ups and downs of a working writer’s life in LA.
I moved out to LA to do stand-up eight years ago. I was always big fan of Janeane Garofalo, she was a big influence as a kid. I’d go see her do shows while I was in high school. After being out here awhile, I realized that I didn’t actually like doing stand-up but I liked the comedy of it. What I enjoyed most was writing jokes for my friends. I was never a performer so I quit. I didn’t know what I was going to do and I was really bummed out about it.
My mum’s always reminding me, that ever since I was little I was writing stories. I had this character I would write about. I was constantly writing. A lot of times people say that if you look what a person gravitated to as a child, then that’s a good indication of what they might enjoy doing later in life. My friend, who was a working TV writer said, why don’t you write on TV? You’d be amazing for it.
Hearing that was like someone telling me– Oh you should be a unicorn! It just hadn’t even occurred to me. But my friend was really supportive. He told me to write a script, see if I like it and we can go from there. When he said that, it made sense. So I wrote a version of what I thought a script was. My friend read it and said I knew how to write jokes but I needed to work on structure. He gave me little tips, basic comedy things that even now I remember. Like when a character is saying one thing but doing the opposite of what they’re saying, that’s funny.
I think a lot of times that’s the hardest thing, to try and juggle real life and the thing that you want to be doing. I took jobs to support myself. I started a little dog walking/ pet sitting business so I’d have time to write and also pay my bills. I think a lot of times that’s the hardest thing, to try and juggle real life and the thing that you want to be doing. I was fortunate enough to be friends with this writer. We met through mutual friends and this is the big thing– if you want to get into writing or into the industry, you have to be here. You have to be in LA so you can meet people. It’s a great second place to be, but I really feel like you have to be out here. If I was living somewhere else, I don’t know if those doors would have kept opening to get me to the place where I am now.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ Learning to write/structure, how did you go about doing that?[/mks_dropcap]
Nadia: It’s funny, when you’re first getting into something you don’t realize how hard it is. You’re naïve almost. I feel like if I’d had that conversation with my friend now, I’d be far more freaked out by it. But I just did it. I do love that about myself and I try to always remember: don’t ever feel like I can’t. Never say I can’t. Just give it a shot and see, maybe you can. Learning to write, there was a lot of trial and error, watching and reading.
Even now, I feel like I can’t watch something without thinking– how was this done? How did the writer do that? I have these best friends, I love these girls, but I’m not seeing them represented on TV. When I’m trying to brainstorm on my next project I think, what am I not seeing? I’m always looking to pick up on stuff. I think a lot of writers are. I enjoy creating these stories and characters that I feel like we don’t get to see a lot of on TV.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ Do you have a type of character that you find re-emerges in your writing?[/mks_dropcap]
Yes, it’s a version of myself and my friends. I love Amy Schumer. I think she is the closest to what I feel my friend groups are. We’re very feminine but the way we speak, we can be very– I don’t want to say masculine, that’s not right, but it’s that thing that has been associated with men for the most part. A lot of women are now thinking, I can go ahead and say that and not have people look at me cross-eyed.
When I used to hang out with all those comedians, the guys would bust each other’s balls in a way. I think sometimes people don’t expect that from women. But we are getting closer to that now, especially with people like Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman. It’s not like women are trying to be guys, we’re being us, we’re people and people are funny. I think for me, that’s the character that I want to get through.
A realistic portrayal of who my friends and I are: funny, smart, cute, strong personalities. I think a lot of times, especially in LA, it feels like women are disposable– Agh, it’s on my mind because of what I’m writing at the moment. But I’m just continuing to chip away at that.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ Tell me about working on the first season of NBC’s “About a Boy?” What was the room and process like?[/mks_dropcap]
Well, we all sat in very comfortable chairs! When we went in we had the source material, the movie and the book. Jason (Katims) was very clear– we were just using that as inspiration. We could go back to some of the things that were in the movie and the book but we were going to make it our own. So we fleshed out the ideas of the characters– who was the Fiona character? Who was the Marcus and Will characters? From there we broke off into groups and brainstormed ideas.
I remember pitching an idea about my first birthday party. I grew up in a cult so my first birthday was when I was 15. It ended up being this huge party. There were people who were way older coming. Kids from college ended up coming because I got very excited and littered the whole school with – Come to my party! – invites. I got my friend’s band to play, people were smoking and drinking. And my parents! They though this was going to be some sweet fifteen year old’s party. So, I pitched that idea and there was the birthday party idea later on when Marcus has his first birthday. But when you pitch an idea, that’s just a place from where we can explore. Now you take whatever that is and make it right for the character.
The great thing we did, is work out what would happen in episode one and what would happen in the last episode. So we’d always know what we were working towards. When I’m writing my own stuff I always ask– where do I want my characters to end up? I can’t image writing a story and not knowing where I’m going. I have to know– what is the end point? What’s the thing that my character is going to learn? How are they going to grow? I need to know the ending so I know how to write to that point, instead of just driving around “the city” aimlessly.
I might find some interesting things but it’s going to be messy and I’m going to waste gas! It’s nice to have those answers literally up on the board. At the end we knew that Will was probably going to move away from Marcus. So knowing that– he’s going to have to meet a woman. He’s a bachelor so he’s going to have to meet something who will finally make him change the way he thinks about bachelorhood, his life and make him think about starting a family.
When you pitch an idea, that’s just a place from where we can explore. Now you take whatever that is and make it right for the character.
These are all things we had to keep in mind as we were breaking the story. We would come in and talk about whatever we’d watched on TV the night before and then we’d start discussing, okay, lets keep going (with the story). There’d be some days when we felt– not that they were a waste because we actually broke story very quickly– but some days we could spend a whole day talking about the story of Will and his band for example, but we found it just wasn’t working. But we knew when to say– that’s not working, we’re not breaking that story.
For me, there’s so many scripts that never see the light of day because they’re not working, there’s something that wasn’t there, I wasn’t excited about them. If you’re writing something and you’re not enjoying it, put it aside. It’s not going to get any better! Take a breather from it. So I learned a little bit of that from being in that room– That’s it’s okay. You can move on.
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 Nadia on twitter: @bacons
The 2015 Launch Pad Pilots Competition is now accepting submissions!