The Tracking Board is proud to present Launch Pad: Mini Series, our new limited 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.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ In that period before you got your first job, what did you learn from the things that, maybe, didn’t work for you?[/mks_dropcap]
Going out on meetings, I feel like I definitely learned lessons there. I remember I went to a couple of interviews for this hit show. I really liked the show– strong female personalities, right up my alley. This was my jam! It was a big deal for me. Very high pressure, because I thought, if I got this job, it could change my life. I met with the showrunner and he told me to come back and pitch him some ideas. I took that seriously. I watched almost every episode of the show, I analyzed, I did my homework, which you’re supposed to do, but I feel like I got almost lost in the details. Almost like, when you study for a test so hard you lose sight of the bigger picture.
There’s this quote I wish I had read before going on these interviews. The quote was, “Give people what they don’t know they want”. Looking back, those ideas could have totally worked, but what I realized is that he could have come up with those ideas on his own. I did, at the very end, pitch some story that had happened to me and my friend, where we had gone to this party that ended up being an orgy. It was us trying to get out of this party that was an orgy. It was embarrassing, like what would have happen if we’d showed up with a casserole! Now by then, I was already on my way out of this meeting, I’d already pitched him a ton of terrible– not terrible, serviceable– ideas, but that was the part where I felt him go: Oh! If I had started with that and built from that, then I think would have had a better shot.
Ultimately, I don’t know. He might have already known who he was going to hire. You never know. There’s so many factors, but for me now, when I go into any meeting, I’m always going to think about giving them the only stories that I, Nadia Bacon, can give that person. Ideas they’re not going to get if they hire another person. I feel like, ideas, that’s the currency when you’re a writer. Your ideas and your stories that you have, that nobody else is going to have. If I’m writing or thinking about a story and it’s something that three other people are going to be able to pitch– you’re not going to be able to stand out. You’re doing a disservice to yourself. These meetings are high pressure situations and you feel like so much is on the line so you don’t want to seem like you have these crazy ideas, but it’s okay.
Ideas, that’s the currency when you’re a writer. Your ideas and your stories that you have, that nobody else is going to have. If I’m writing or thinking about a story and it’s something that three other people are going to be able to pitch– you’re not going to be able to stand out.
I always think about my friend who worked in fashion, she said, be as crazy as you want– A smart person will recognize, “Woah, that was kind of crazy, but we can reel her in or we can pull it back.” But if you pitch only a little bit of an idea, no ones going to look at you and think, “I think can extract something from that. You want to go over.” Go for those bigger ideas– the things that you haven’t seen before. You want to give them shiny and new. Give them what they don’t know they want. I think it will happen eventually if you keep at it and you keep getting better. I think being patient, you really have to be patient, which is hard when you’ve been at it for awhile and you’re like, it’s not happening, it’s not this, it’s not that-– It takes time. There’s no shortcut.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ Are you working towards your own show?[/mks_dropcap]
I would love to have my own show but I don’t expect that as a baby writer. That will come in time and with experience. It’s good to know your place. I’m not going to expect more than where I’m at, I’ve met those people and they can be very annoying. Right now, I’m meeting for jobs. The great thing about cable is that it’s all year round. Whereas before there was that mad dash to get booked on something. It’s a little bit more even than it has been, which is nice. I’m working on my own stuff, creating new material. I think a big thing now is that you can be heard, like on Twitter or something. It’s not a fast track necessarily though but it can help you get noticed.
I started a blog early on. Blogs are such a big thing now, but it’s a great tool. It’s something that you can use as a calling card– having a blog and having a distinct voice. There are so many different avenues that as writers didn’t have before. My blog now is just for me. If I have an idea or a there’s a character or an opinion that’s not fully fleshed, I’ll just put it on this. It’s basically an online diary that I can choose to publish one day. The thing I will say about twitter, I read something that Mindy Kaling said– that she never really hires people off Twitter for her show because she said that you can get a sense of their humor of it but it doesn’t tell you that person can write a script and do it well. So I think it’s a good way to get noticed, but then you’re going to have to deliver the goods.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ What gets you through the tough times, when you look around and it’s doesn’t seem like anything is coming your way?[/mks_dropcap]
Nadia: I’ll look for things to be inspired by. The thing about writing is that you can always just write something new. If I feel like something’s not happening, I start writing something new. You’re only going to get better because of it. It’s hard, I mean writing is hard. I’ve never had a child, but I feel it’s like giving birth– It’s painful, but it can be fun and rewarding. That’s the thing about this business— When you get on your first show, you think it’s going to be daisies from now on and it’s not. There’s highs and lows but this is the career I’ve chosen. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
The thing about writing is that you can always just write something new. If I feel like something isn’t happening, I start writing something new.The thing that makes me feel good is going back, creating a character, maybe writing a couple sketches based on that character that you’ve fallen in love with. Or go out in the world, walk around and ask, what is that person’s story? Then I start to create from there. That’s the beauty of writing– it can be done anywhere. Just take a notepad and start writing. I get inspired that way. I think for actors it’s much harder because they are waiting on other people to find the right project for themselves but as writers we are very lucky and fortunate in that way. We don’t have to wait on anyone else to create.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ How do you know the difference between, if it’s something you’re not excited about or if it’s just resistance? [/mks_dropcap]
If you need to tell the story, if you’re excited about it, if you think people need to hear this story then you know. I feel like a lot of ideas are after the fact. Like when New Girl came out it was, 2 Broke Girls, Girls— It was all these girl shows. That was the hot thing. This is just a hunch, but I’m sure there were all these very girl themed shows floating around after.
You don’t have to ride the trend wave because as soon as it’s on, it’s over. Do something else. That’s why I say, what’s your story? What do you have that’s unique that nobody else is going to be able to write about? Because your (writing) sample is your calling card.
You don’t have to ride the trend wave because as soon as it’s on, it’s over. Do something else. What do you have that’s unique that nobody else is going to be able to write about?Once somebody gave me this idea for a story that I thought was interesting. I started it and I really stuck with it. Then I realized– this is not working, I don’t like this character. Not to say that people can’t inspire you with great ideas, but this didn’t come from inside. I think a lot of times when writers are trying to break in, they’re trying to write the thing that’s going to get them noticed. They’re trying to figure out what are They are looking for– the industry people. What do they want?
I think it’s good to pay attention to those things, but I don’t think you need to saddle yourself down with that. Give them what they don’t know they want.
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.